While most of America slept Wednesday night/Thursday morning, President Barack Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of 18 U.S. personnel who died Monday in Afghanistan were flown home on an Air Force C-17 transport.
Here’s how the scene was described by the White House Pool Media.
The President, wearing a dark suit and long dark overcoat, boarded Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House at 11:44 p.m. Wednesday. Accompanying the President were White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and aides Denis McDonough and Marvin Nicholson.
The fallen consisted of seven U.S. Army soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency agents killed when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Afghanistan on Monday. Also eight additional U.S. soldiers were killed when their Stryker personnel vehicle was struck by an IED blast in the Arghandab River Valley. Both incidents occurred Monday, October 26 and the deaths contributed to the deadliest month for the U.S. in Afghanistan.
The remains of the fallen were carried by a team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service to the Air Force Mortuary Operations Center located at the Dover base.
Accompanying the President in honoring the fallen were Attorney General Eric Holder, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, U.S. Army Assistant Judge Advocate Maj. Gen Daniel Wright, U.S. Army Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Col. Robert Edmondson, who served as the Dignified Transfer Host Officer.
President Obama’s helicopter Marine One landed at Dover at 12:34 am, stopping maybe 50 yards behind the cargo plane holding the fallen personnel. Still wearing his topcoat, the President was greeted by Col. Manson Morris, the 436th Airlift Wing commander. President Obama then walked to a SUV that joined a motorcade that took him to an on-base chapel where he met with family members of the fallen soldiers and agents.
According to the Air Force, there were four dignified transfers of the eighteen fallen Americans. In each transfer the President and those accompanying him walked to the back of the C-17 where Air Force Chaplain, Maj. Richard S. Bach, offered prayers. Then the dignified transfer, which is not a ceremony according to military officials, took place.
The President and the other officials stood in line as the flag draped transfer cases were carrying out individual by six person Army carry teams to the mortuary transfer vehicle. The team wore black berets and camouflage fatigues. The remains were then transported to the Port Mortuary.
The media accompanying the President were given permission by the family to witness the transfer of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, of Terre Haute, Ind.
Sgt. Griffin’s was the last transfer that occurred. At 3:40 am, President Obama marched out with other members of the official party. Ahead of them was the six-person carry team, wearing white gloves. They all marched to the C-17 aircraft and up the back ramp onto the plane.
A minute later, the President and the others marched off and stood at attention in a single file near the ramp, facing the carry team’s path. Nearly ten minutes later a small bus with Sgt. Griffin’s family pulled up. As the team carried the sergeant’s flag draped case off the plane, President Obama and the others with him saluted; holding the salute until Sgt. Griffin was placed in the van.
As the van drove away, the President and the others with him again saluted as the van slowly drove away.
The entire final transfer took about fifteen minutes. And by 4:05am, the President was back on route to the White House where he arrived at 4:45pm, five hours after he left. The President walked from Marine One back to the White House alone in solitude and reflection.