By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin J. Matwey
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 8, 2009 - The remains of seven American troops killed July 6 during combat operations in Afghanistan returned to their nation during a dignified transfer this afternoon at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Twenty-six family members from every region of the country stood on the tarmac witnessing their loved one's return.
Subdued voices of the carry team leaders directed their teams to perform precise movements as they transferred their comrades-in-arms from the C-17 aircraft to a waiting vehicle. A six-person Navy team carried the transfer case of the single sailor into one vehicle, followed by a six-person U.S. Army team who then carried each transfer case for the six soldiers into a second vehicle.
The wind picked-up on this warm summer day as the last transfer case holding the sixth soldier was placed in the transfer vehicle, and all present rendered a final salute.
As the second and final transfer vehicle with the remains of the six Army soldiers left the flight line, the U.S. Navy carry team joined a dozen troops standing at attention outside the passenger terminal as they rendered a salute. The transfer vehicle passed in front, followed by the Army carry team and the senior officers.
Today's dignified returns were of the following seven servicemembers:
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tony M. Randolph, of Henryetta, Okla., assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Eight, Sigonella, Italy.
U.S. Army Capt. Mark A. Garner, of State Road, N.C., assigned to Company B, 1-4th Infantry Battalion, Hohensfels, Germany.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Derwin I. Williams, of Glenwood, Ill., assigned to Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 106th Cavalry, Dixon, Ill., Illinois Army National Guard.
U.S. Army Sgt. Brock H. Chavers, of Bulloch, Ga., assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, Americus, Ga., Georgia Army National Guard.
U.S. Army Spc. Chester W. Hosford, of Hastings, Minn, assigned to Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 106th Cavalry, Dixon, Ill., U.S. Army National Guard.
U.S. Army Spc. Issac L. Johnson, of Columbus, Ga., assigned to Company A, 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Statesboro, Ga.
U.S. Army Pfc. Nicholas Gideon, of Murrieta, Calif., assigned to the 40th Armored Squadron, Fort Richardson, Ark.
Minutes after the transfer was complete and family members exited the flight line the sound of retreat followed by the National Anthem broadcast across the air base.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended today's dignified transfers, as he has for several previous transfers.
Mullen spoke with family members assembled in a base chapel before the transfer . Afterwards, the chairman spoke briefly with each of the carry teams and with more than 20 other servicemembers involved in the transfer operations.
Earlier in the day, Mullen responded to a question at the National Press Club about the impact he has seen from the policy change to allow the press to cover the return of fallen service members.
"It's been very well done," Mullen said. "I've been up there and observed the process. I personally believe it was a very important decision.
"And what I've seen is that that dignity and that respect has been -- has been very, very much supported in the time that certainly the press has been there," he said. And I'm very encouraged by that. I think it's important that all of us understand the sacrifices that these young men and women make."
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral James J. Shannon, commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael T. Harrison Sr., director, Joint and Futures, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G8, Headquarters, Department of the Army, also attended the transfer. U.S. Air Force Col. Manson O. Morris, commander, 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Del., was the dignified transfer officer.
Dignified transfers have occurred over 4,000 times at Dover Air Force Base since 2001 in virtually the same manner. A policy change on April 5 of this year allowed news media to be present with the approval of the primary next of kin of the fallen service member. In about 70 percent of cases the families approve the presence of news media. Family members have been present in the same percentage.
(Tech. Sgt. Benjamin J. Matwey is assigned to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Public Affairs)