LeRoy Collins Commentary 136

Commentary #136
11 February 2008

MG Don Riley's Mission to Dover

Roger, it is always good to hear from you. I was especially thankful you sent the written account of Major General Don Riley's very recent, but sad mission to Dover AFB, to greet five soldiers coming home for the last time.

For the past year, I have served the State of Florida as the Executive Director of Veterans' Affairs. It has brought me in contact with many such occasions where we honor Floridians who have died in defense of our country. The total number of Floridians killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan just passed 200 in the last few weeks.

While we always feel pain for the families involved, they always seem anxious to express the resolve their young deceased had about his/her difficult, but proud duty to protect our country through patriotic service on the ramparts of liberty.

Florida's Governor Charlie Crist recently asked me how I like this job. I replied that I find it inspiring, because it brings me in daily contact with the greatest Americans I have ever known. It thereby provides a new history lesson every day. I like that.

Now, thanks to you, I have this moving account of how we honor these special Americans who continue to volunteer to defend our homeland from those who seek to do us harm. This noble duty is never business-as-usual. VR/Roy

(For those who are unaware of how this solemn memorial 'duty' is handled.... Don is Director of Civil Works, Army Corps of Engineers)

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From: Riley, Don T MG HQ02
Sent: Thursday, February 07, 2008 4:00 PM

I have been asked by several if I would not mind forwarding to you the below email that I sent last week to my family. Apparently it has made its way around to some of you and, although I did not originally intend wide distribution, I certainly have no objections to forwarding to you or for you to forward to others as you wish. It is always worthy to remind others, especially those who have never served in uniform, of the daily sacrifices of our great men and women now serving us so very well.

Gratefully, Don

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All, I am presently returning to WASHDC in a Blackhawk helicopter from a mission at Dover Air Force Base on the coast of Delaware. I thought I would describe to you how we welcomed home five of our fallen heroes. The Army designates a General Officer to meet every airplane that returns home carrying the remains of our Soldiers - a "repatriation of remains."

I received the duty, and honor, today, getting the call early this morning as the contract Boeing 747 lifted off from Ramstein Airbase in Germany, with the remains of five soldiers killed in Iraq this past weekend. We quickly arranged for the helicopter to take the Army Honor Guard (from the Old Guard, the unit that guards the Tomb of the Unknown) and me to Dover where we arrived to greet the 747.

As we waited, the Air Force Honor guard mounted the arriving airplane, ensured a new and unblemished American flag was draped and secured properly over each "transfer case" (not yet a casket); and then loaded them individually, in a slow and dignified manner, on to a loader to lower them to the tarmac.

When they were ready, the Army Honor Guard then marched to the plane,and the Deputy Air Force Wing Commander escorted the Chaplain and me to the plane's steps. We then entered the plane, moved to the flag-draped transfer cases, and the Chaplain offered a prayer. The Commander and I then returned, in step, to the tarmac where the Army Honor Guard was waiting.

As we all stood at attention, the Honor Guard moved to lift each case. At this time the Commander and I saluted (ceremoniously - a slow, three second move) as they moved the case to the open doors of the hearse. We did this for each soldier being honored. Then one last salute as the hearse started to drive away. We all then followed, in step, the slow moving hearses back towards the morgue where they will process the soldiers' remains for transport home to their final resting places. Further, when the cases arrive and depart the morgue, all the morgue workers come outside to stand at attention and salute as appropriate.

The deceased were all from the same company in 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division and were killed by an IED attack and ambush last weekend. There were no media, no family present (although they are invited, few come, as I suspect they are both grieving and preparing for the homecoming), no cameras, and no outside viewers allowed. It is all a brief and small, but a most dignified gesture to honor the fallen.

The men and women at Dover are impressive, and they carry a large burden on their spirits for the Nation, as they see this all too often.

When I get back to the office I'll write down, as I have for past missions, the names of those I welcomed home on a small card and place it in my notebook. I don't want to lose their memory, not do I want to forget the honor I have to participate in this mission.

We don't know why their lives were taken so early, but we do know why they served - because they were called by their country and they answered the call. They served, knowing they would see danger and they would be away from family and home, but they did it selflessly.

Please pray for their families and friends back home, that God will comfort them in their sorrow, knowing that these five soldiers did their duty well.

Love, Don

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/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.
RADM USNR (Ret)

www.leroycollins.org


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