For the second time as President, Barack Obama, came to Dover Air Force Base to pay tribute fallen American troops. This time he honored 30 servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
The Chinook helicopter carrying the soldiers was shot down by insurgents on Saturday in what has become the deadliest day in the history of the decade-long Afghan war.
The President arrived on the base just after 12:30 on Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. The President saluted each of the 30 containers one by one. He spent 70 minutes consoling 250 families members of the soldiers being honored at the Air Force Base, known as the military mortuary.
Due to the catastrophic nature of the crash, the remains were returned to Dover in “unidentified” status until they are positively identified by the Armed Forces Mortuary Affairs office.
A White House official called the Dignified Transfer “a very sober and somber event.” These ceremonies have been open to media with permission of family members. This one was not. “Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer,” Van Williams, Public Affairs Chief of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, said in a written statement. “Therefore, in accordance with (Department of Defense) policy, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted. Families will however, be given the opportunity to be present for the arrival.” A White House reporter was allowed to observe the ceremony as a pool reporter.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen were among top civilian and uniformed leaders will attend along with the president and family members. The president spent over 5 hours on the base.
The dead servicemen included 22 Navy SEALs. Most were members of the counter terrorism unit that carried out the mission to find Osama Bin Laden. None of those involved in the Bin Laden raid were among the dead Saturday, U.S. officials have said.
The work of the Dignified Transfer team can be unpredictable. An hour after the President left two more soldiers returned to Dover Air Force Base. Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr., 28, of Bakersfield, Calif. and Sgt. Joshua J. Robinson, 29, of Omaha, Neb. were killed Sunday while in combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.