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Honoring our fallen warriors

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Rochelle Binion
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Chaplain
The early morning brought a crisp, cool wind with just a hint that fall was on the way. Even though I could not see the changing of the leaves as I normally would, I had the honor of praying over service members who gave their lives willingly, so that I and others might live in freedom each day. As I walked onto the C-17 Globemaster III, my mind was filled with an array of thoughts and emotions from the day before. Fifteen hours prior, I was honored to stand before yet another group of fallen warriors, to pray over them and to pray for their families and friends. This previous ceremony touched me in a much different way than ever before. During that ceremony, standing to my left, was the brother of one of the fallen Soldiers, himself a Soldier, who I could tell was hurting deep inside but felt the need to be strong. As a chaplain there were no words that I could express to this young private to bring him comfort or even peace at that time, but I do believe that just having someone there was all he really needed.
So, as I walked to the front of the aircraft, I asked God to clear my mind of the weighty events of the previous day so I could truly honor the fallen service members in front of me. My heart's desire was to give these fallen warriors the most dignified prayer and sendoff that I could. As I waited for the ceremony officials to arrive, I stood at parade rest reflecting on those Soldiers and what their last moments might have been like. I thought about their families: they are children to their parents -- possibly spouses and parents themselves -- and yet these Soldiers and their families were without each other that night and forever more. I thought about the fact that if those service members had a small child, they would never have the chance to see their mommy or daddy again -- or a spouse or parent who will live the rest of their lives with the memories of their service member who gave all. As I reflected on these things, I looked up and down the aircraft and saw the mortuary affairs team lined up and standing at parade rest awaiting the ceremony officials. It was as if they were mirroring my image so that together, on both ends, we held these service members in our arms, watching over them until it was time to honor them with scripture, prayer and a dignified transfer. I stood in awe of the moment as others arrived. I asked God for His strength and His peace to wash over my thoughts and over the suffering and pain the families were feeling.

As I prepared to read Scripture from the 23rd Psalm, I was reminded once again of the sacrifice not only these service members made but the sacrifices their families made. As I read the Psalm and recited the prayer to honor these brave warriors, I was humbled that the men and women in our military, day-in and day-out, willingly give of themselves so that I and others may live in freedom. When the prayer ended, the commander walked to the first fallen service member's remains, knelt in honor and respect and placed a commander's coin on the American-flag-draped casket. As I watched him honor each of these fallen warriors, I was reminded of the first time I ever saw a Fallen Warrior ceremony take place. The images of that night remain vivid in my mind even though it happened more than two months ago. That night was particularly special to me in that I was humbled then, as now, by the opportunity to honor fallen warriors by kneeling and praying for them and their families. One special memory to me is how I thought I had everything together until I saw the commander kneel and pray over each of the fallen warriors. Honestly, at the time, I was overcome with emotion and I tried to hold back the tears, but I couldn't.

As I knelt over these fallen warriors and prayed, the events of the day before came to mind. That day was special for many reasons; one being that it was the day our nation took time out to remember and honor those who lost their lives 10 years earlier on Sept. 11, 2001, and another was that I had the opportunity to honor and pray for six fallen heroes and their families. As I prepared for this particular ceremony, I began to reflect and seek God in writing a prayer that would truly honor them and their families. The scripture verse John 15:13 came to the front of my mind.

The verse states, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

I repeated the verse over and over in my mind, thinking about the cost these warriors and all the warriors before them had paid that we, as Americans, might live in freedom. No matter which branch of the service they were in, these warriors volunteered to serve and they volunteered to be at the forefront of the fight. They chose to give up the comforts of home and make sacrifices daily, living in defensive fighting positions and tents instead of living a cushy life. This verse had a great impact on me at that moment and, as we began the dignified transfer, I stood tall and honored these service members with all of my being, saluting them in such a way to say 'Thank you for the sacrifices you made for all of us.' As the fallen warriors were transferred and the ceremony attendees were dismissed, I walked away humbled, knowing that somewhere out there in a combat zone on a mountain side, in a valley or in a defensive fighting position, there are warriors giving of themselves, not because they have to but because they choose to.

Since I have been deployed here, I have prayed over many fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines but ever since the ceremony on Sept. 11, I have a newfound honor and respect for each of them. As I walked away from the plane, there was still a gentle breeze and I was comforted knowing that not only are there warriors out there fighting, but there are warriors who are angels watching over us from above; watching over their families and giving them a sense of respite and relief from the pain of losing their son or daughter, their husband or wife, their dad or mom. The lives these service members lived will forever be etched in our hearts and minds and it is their memories that help the families and the rest of us move on and continue the fight. There is no better way to honor them than with a slow, honoring salute and a dignified transfer.