If you read this blog, you most likely know that I am a US Soldier, currently deployed to Iraq. I actually started this blog so that I had a spot to talk to family and friends during my last deployment and I often found myself wandering off into politics and a handful of other topics. In the last year or so I have narrowed the focus to gaming and maps, and reviews of books.
I try to keep my politics or anything dealing with my Soldierly duties to a minimum for various reasons. Today something happened that effected me and I just have to get it off my chest.
I currently work at one of the main Army hospitals in Iraq and as such, many of the Soldiers that are badly wounded come through our halls. We are also co-located at one of the largest airports. Thus, as can be expected, many of the casualties come through here. When a fallen hero is about to board the plane for his final journey back to the United States, we all head out to the airfield to salute our fallen brother one last time. This is called a Patriot Flight.
It is a rather solemn ceremony. We head out and form a formation at the rear of the plane. Two formations facing each other, with a path down the middle for the casket to move from the truck to the plane. Flag draped caskets are unloaded from an unassuming white panel truck and friends of the fallen take them down their last march to board the plane. As they pass before the two formations, we raise a slow, deliberate salute.
It is a hard thing to do, but it is an honor to stand on the airfield and see our fallen off. Call it a duty, call it honor, tradition, call it whatever you want. If you are here, you just sort of feel the need to be there. If you are not here, you might not get it.
I have done this far too many times since coming here, I have saluted twenty-three of my brothers and sisters in arms as they board a plane one last time. Usually there is one casket, occasionally two will pass before us.
Late one night, we stood in formation again as they readied the plane. We all stood silent. I watched as the white truck that carries the caskets moved into place.
Only this night, something was different.
Another truck pulled up along side of it. I admit I am a bit of an old softy, but when the second truck pulled up, something I had never seen before, a lump formed in my throat. I knew there were five that were killed, but seeing the second truck just struck me. I had to fight back hard and swallow.
They called us to attention.
The first casket came by and we saluted.
The third passed and I could see across to the other Soldiers in formation. I could read it on their faces. They were thinking the same thing I was. God, there are so many.
The fourth call to Present Arms. The lump came back.
The fifth salute. Mentally I thought “Oh thank God.” Not because it was late or we were tired, but because I knew it was the last casket. If there had been another one I might have…well, I did not want to see another one.
The chaplain invited members of the unit to come up into the plane to say last words to their fallen. They said a private prayer, saluted, and then began to come down the ramp. It struck me how young they were. To myself I said “Damn, they are just kids.”
We form up around the rear of the plane for the group prayer. After the chaplain said a few words, we all turned to leave and head back to our CHUs. We knew their names, but we walked quietly away wondering who they were, who they left behind, what will never be and why it had to happen.
I have to say, this was probably one of the worst things I will remember of my tour here. While it is an honor to do this, it also leaves you with a terrible sadness and emptiness. Knowing somewhere out there, someone loved those who passed before us, and somewhere, someone is crying for a lost loved one.
God be with you my friends.