It is as sobering a duty as any for the commander in chief: bearing witness to the return of fallen servicemembers’ remains at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
On Tuesday, President Obama cleared his schedule and made the 40-minute helicopter flight to Dover, where the remains of 30 servicemen – including 22 members of the elite Navy SEALs – were brought from Afghanistan. The men died Saturday when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by insurgents in the Tangi Valley of eastern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest day for US forces in the 10-year war.
Mr. Obama was accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, along with other military and administration officials.
Upon arrival at Dover, the President motorcaded down the tarmac to where two C-17s containing the remains of the fallen servicemen were located. The President was escorted to the first plane by [Col. Mark Camerer, the 436th Airlift Wing Commander]. He boarded the plane with his military aide and spent time on board paying his respects. Escorted again by Col. Camerer, the President walked the 100 yards to the second C-17, boarded it with his military aide, and spent time on board paying his respects.
Afterwards, the President motorcaded to a building on base where approximately 250 family members and fellow servicemen and women of the fallen had gathered. He spent approximately 70 minutes meeting informally with family members, offering his condolences for their loss and his deep gratitude for their sacrifice and service.
There was no report of public remarks by Obama. But in October 2009, after his last trip to Dover, The Washington Post quote the president as saying: "It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day – not only our troops, but their families as well. And so Michelle and I are constantly mindful of those sacrifices. And obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts. And it is something that I think about each and every day."
Then, he was attending the return of 15 soldiers and three agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, who had died in two separate incidents in Afghanistan that week. He met privately with family members.
On Tuesday, the remains delivered to Dover had yet to be identified. Most of the 22 Navy SEALs who perished were members of SEAL Team Six, the counterterrorism unit that had found and killed Osama bin Laden in May. US officials have said none of those who died on Saturday were involved in the bin Laden operation.