White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs showed a rare flash of emotion this morning reflecting on his own experience at President Obama’s side in the predawn hours at Dover Air Force Base as the bodies of 18 killed in Afghanistan arrived in the United States.
Eyes glistening, Gibbs told reporters during a gaggle in his West Wing office he’d never had such an experience.
“You get a real sense of gravity when you see the faces of those there to grieve for a loved one,” Gibbs said after TPMDC asked him about his own reaction during the surprise visit.
“These were very recent deaths,” he continued. “You can see the genuine anguish on their faces. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by what you see.”Gibbs said the visit was something Obama had wanted to do since he approved a new policy allowing for open coverage of the Dover arrival of the war dead.
He said the planning first began Tuesday night and was finally decided at noon yesterday, about 11 hours before Marine One lifted off for the solemn trip.
There were 14 families represented at the transfer ceremony, Gibbs said.
He said there was no discussion about the president’s decision-making on whether to send a surge of up to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.
“Last night was not about soliciting advice on a resource request or a path forward in Afghanistan,” Gibbs said, but instead was about offering prayers and “sincere, deepest sympathies.”
The helicopter ride back to the White House was quiet with the exception of Obama thanking staff for arranging the trip.