President Obama before dawn this morning paid tribute to the 18 U.S. military personnel killed in Afghanistan Monday, making a surprise trip to Dover Air Force Base as their bodies returned home to the United States.
The solemn visit – Obama’s first such experience since taking office and lifting the ban on photographing the war dead – comes as he’s wrestling with a decision to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
(See slideshow here.)
The White House pool was summoned just before midnight to witness the moment. TPMDC has the details.Obama was joined by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, travel director Marvin Nicholson and Denis McDonough of his national security team, all close friends.
The White House said the group with Obama at Dover included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, U.S. Army Assistant Judge Advocate Maj Gen Daniel Wright, U.S. Army Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Col. Robert Edmondson, who will serve as the Dignified Transfer Host Officer.
Obama went into the chapel at Dover to meet with the families of the fallen before participating in a 15-minute traditional ceremony known as a transfer. The pool reporter was told that during the transfer, Air Force Chaplain, Maj. Richard S. Bach, would offer a prayer.
From the pool reports tonight:
At 3:40 am, POTUS marched out of a base building with other members of the official party. Ahead of them was the six-person carry team, wearing white gloves. POTUS group walked maybe 250 yards across the tarmac to the C-17, and they followed the team up the back ramp onto the plane. A minute later, POTUS’ group marched off and stood at attention in a single file near the ramp, facing the carry team’s path. Nearly ten minutes later a small bus with family members of Sgt. Dale Griffin pulled up. As the team carried the flag draped case off the plane, POTUS and the party saluted, holding the position until the case was placed on the white mortuary van, which was parked nearby. They saluted again as the van slowly drove away.
The fallen consist of 7 U.S. Army soldiers and 3 Drug Enforcement Agency agents killed when their MH-47 Chinook crashed at Darreh-ye-bum, and 8 U.S. soldiers killed when their STRYKER personnel vehicle was struck by an IED blast in the Arghandab River Valley. Both incidents occurred on October 26, the military said. The deaths contributed to the deadliest month for the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Remains were to carried by a team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service to the Air Force Mortuary Operations Center facility.
Obama was back at the White House alone at 4:45 a.m.
Late Update: Here’s the video.