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Honoring our fallen…

  • Published
  • By Maj. Carlton Relaford
  • Air Forces Central Foreign Disclosure Chief
I was the only one on the bus, besides the driver, at 4:40 a.m. He asked if there was anyone else coming. I said I didn't think so; "these events occur so early that folks don't get to participate."

After about five to ten minutes, we proceeded to the foreign object damage checkout, to make sure we didn't pick up something on the outside of the bus that would pose a danger to any of the aircraft engines on the tarmac.

We rolled up to the C-17 and waited for a bit. The driver wasn't sure what to do next, and I certainly didn't know, this was my first "Fallen Warrior" experience. The driver eventually got the attention of an Airman - I suppose he was the crew chief - and asked him if this is where the Fallen Warrior ceremony was going to be held. The crew chief confirmed, so we got off the bus and boarded the plane.

Once in the aircraft, I noticed a number of individuals, flight crew and ground crew, awaiting the arrival of the remains of one of our brave warriors, who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I asked one of the aircrew what the procedure was, and he gave me some instructions - such as line up to receive the warrior and give a slow salute while the remains are loaded onto the back of the plane.

As the van approached the aircraft, we slowly migrated toward the back opening of the plane. We lined up on the ramp door, but were given the order to move down to the tarmac to receive the remains. After we repositioned ourselves on either side of the ramp door, a "remains" detail was called to attention and they proceeded to secure the remains for transfer on to the airplane. We were called to attention and ordered to give the salute - a slow, respectful gesture befitting someone who had just fallen in battle for a worthy cause, the cause of freedom.

I cannot tell you how full of emotion I was during the entire experience. It started as the bus rolled up to the airplane, and continued throughout the ceremony. Even as I write this, tears well up in my eyes, and my heart is filled with the awe of that moment and why we do what we do. Our values guide us to help ensure others have a chance to experience what we experience, to enjoy what we enjoy; and, while we cherish the lives of our brothers and sisters we serve alongside, we accept the chance - yes, the reality - that we risk life and limb with every deployment, an obligation we accept "freely, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion."