It was about 2200 last night when we found out why the flight was delayed. There would be two young service members making their final return trip to the US – with the first leg being Kandahar to Kuwait on our flight.
All the grumbling stopped; everyone was rather quiet. Any ramp ceremony and travel takes precedence over those of us traveling under our own power.
When we finally boarded, there they were – two metal coffins with fitted flag covers. There was no joking, horseplay, stumbling or shoving. Just travelers carefully adding extra bags to the palates and going to the left or right of those two solemn reminders positioned directly behind the last row of center seats with their feet toward the door.
The last row stayed empty.
Right before arrival in Kuwait – we were informed there would be an additional stop at KCIA. We return to our seats to make the short hop to Ali As Salem.
Landing – we all exited through the rear – then formed up in ranks of 12 on each side of where the ramp would come back down. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, civilians and contractors standing at attention and waiting.
Waiting for the back tail section to raise, the ramp to come down and the caskets to be carried quietly by an AF detail through the silent ranks and the slow salutes.
One at a time – off loaded – carried toward their next mode of travel on the slow route home to family via Dover.
We are all going home at some point. Some now on Emergency leave, some on R&R and some on redeployment. Home to family and friends. On our feet with rucksacks and duffels, through multiple airports and formations. Those will be joyous trips, formations creating irritation because of delays in getting and doing what we want.
There was more than one quiet prayer said in that formation – for the families of those who have to live forever with the other kind of return. For the families greating the return of their 19, 22 year old sons.