Dignified Transfer Offers Fitting Tribute
(March 18, 2010)
WASHINGTON, March 15, 2010 – I stepped out from the van and
onto the rain-drenched flightline, shivering from the cold
that seemed to whip straight through my wool coat. |
I had traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Del., in late
February to write stories about the Air Force Mortuary
Affairs Operations Center. I wasn't supposed to start
working until morning, but I didn't want to pass up the
opportunity to witness an event known as a dignified
transfer, which marks the return of a servicemember who has
died while supporting a combat operation overseas to U.S.
I looked up and straight ahead sat a 757, nose lifted and
lit to reveal two flag-draped transfer cases. Although
covered in clear, waterproof material, the colors of the
flag stood out in stark contrast to the night sky. All
thoughts of discomfort dissolved as it sank in that two
fallen soldiers lay within.
Army Staff Sgt. Michael David P. Cardenaz and Army Pfc. J.R.
Salvacion had died just a few days before in Afghanistan.
Cardenaz was killed when enemy forces attacked his unit with
rocket-propelled grenades. Salvacion died of wounds suffered
when insurgents attacked his unit with a homemade bomb.
I thought about their service and sacrifice and what they
had given up back home to serve. And I thought about my own
two young sons and the unthinkable pain I would feel at
Moments later a bus pulled up, its windows tinted for
privacy, carrying the soldiers' families and friends. It
parked alongside me and the other media representatives, but
they got out on the opposite side, tucked away from our
curious looks and lenses.
The friendly banter among my colleagues ceased when they
arrived, a sign of respect and an indication that the solemn
event was ready to begin.
In the distance, an Army carry team dressed in camouflage,
hands clad in white gloves, approached, only partially
visible through the rain and fog. A group of servicemembers
who made up the official transfer party followed closely
behind. The wind whipped around them, but they seemed
oblivious to the weather, their gazes set straight ahead as
they marched toward their fallen comrades.
They entered the aircraft and stepped into position behind
one of the cases. A chaplain rendered a prayer for the
fallen servicemembers. I strained to hear, but his voice was
too soft and his words were carried off in a gust of wind.
The carry team stepped forward, gently lifted the case and
moved it to the edge of the transfer device known as a
“K-loader,” and set it alongside the other.
The two cases were lowered to the tarmac, where the carry
team was waiting. Three on each side and one at the end, the
soldiers lifted the case, and with slow, measured movements,
moved it into a transfer vehicle waiting with its doors
One of the family members cried out, overcome by her loss
and by the sight of her loved one departing. I heard the
depth of her pain, and I too began to cry, my tears mingling
with the rain until it was impossible to distinguish between
The other case followed, and a young airman shut the doors.
With a call of “present arms,” all military members saluted
-- slowly and respectfully.
The transfer vehicle, with a military police escort, pulled
off, followed by the official party and the carry team. I
could hear the families board the bus to go. My escort
nudged me. “We can go now,” he said, but I felt unable to
move. I stood there until I could no longer see the van or
the servicemembers behind it.
It was only then that I realized I was shivering. I had
forgotten about the cold.
By Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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