Fallen soldiers

This comes from the ParMedia — Participatory Media site. I have this friend who sends me a bunch of stuff (you know who you are) and I just skim over a lot of it. This piece, however, I’ve read several times already. Yeah, I’m a full-fledged patriotic, hawkish kind of guy — and pround of it and of our military and my prior military service. This piece says a lot sacrifice, honor, tradition, training, and respect. You can always argue the politics and wisdom of a war and of the specific conduct of it, but that’s a totally different argument from how we should treat and appreciate our military men and women. I just wish more folks could keep the two arguments separate in their minds and in their rhetoric.

Have your hanky handy, and have an American flag nearby because you’re gonna want to stand up and salute it.

gil

Fallen Marines

Fallen Marines November 25th, 2004

I want to share with you my most recent Air Force Reserve trip. I
had decided to go back into the Air Force Reserves as a part time
reservist and after 6 months of training, I have recently been promoted
to Lieutenant Colonel and have been fully mission qualified as an
Aircraft Commander of a KC-135R strato tanker aircraft.

On Friday of last week, my crew and I were tasked with a mission
to provide air refueling support in order to tanker 6 F-16’s over to
Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. We were then to tanker back to the states,
6 more F-16’s that were due maintenance. It started out as a fairly
standard mission – one that I have done many times as an active duty
Captain in my former jet – the KC10a extender.

We dragged the F-16’s to Moron Air Base in Spain where we spent
the night and then finished the first part of our mission the next day
by successfully delivering them to Incirlik. When I got on the ground
in Turkey, I received a message to call the Tanker Airlift Control
Center that my mission would change. Instead of tankering the F-16’s
that were due maintenance, I was cut new orders to fly to Kuwait City
and pick up 22 “HR’s” and return them to Dover Air Force Base in
Delaware.

It had been a while since I had heard of the term “HR” used, and
as I pondered what the acronym could possibly stand for, when it dawned
on me that it stood for human remains. There were 22 fallen comrades
who had just been killed in the most recent attacks in Fallujah and
Baghdad, Iraq over the last week.

I immediately alerted the crew of the mission change and although
they were exhausted due to an ocean crossing, the time change and
minimum ground time in Spain for crew rest, we all agreed that it was
more important to get these men back to their families as soon as
possible.

We were scheduled to crew rest in Incirlik, Turkey for the evening
and start the mission the next day. Instead, we decided to
extend/continue our day and fly to Kuwait in order to pick up our
precious cargo. While on the flight over to Kuwait, I knew that there
were protocol procedures for accepting and caring for human remains,
however, in my 13 years of active duty service, I never once had to
refer to this regulation. As I read the regulation on the flight over,
I felt prepared and ready to do the mission. My game plan was to pick
up the HR’s and turn around to fly to Mildenhal Air Base in England,
spend the night, and then fly back the next day. This was the quickest
way to get them home, considering the maximum crew duty day that I
could subject my crew to legally and physically. I really pushed them
to the limits but no one complained at all.

I thought that I was prepared for the acceptance of these men
until we landed at Kuwait International. I taxied the jet over to a
staging area where the honor guard was waiting to load our soldiers. I
stopped the jet and the entire crew was required to stay on board. We
opened the cargo door, and according to procedure, I had the crew line
up in the back of the aircraft in formation and stand at attention. As
the cargo loader brought up the first pallet of caskets, I ordered the
crew to “Present Arms.” Normally, we would snap a salute at this
command, however, when you are dealing with a fallen soldier, the
salute is a slow 3 second pace to position. As I stood there and
finally saw the first four of twenty-two caskets draped with the
American Flags, the reality had hit me. As the Marine Corps honor guard
delivered the first pallet on board, I then ordered the crew to “Order
Arms” – where they rendered an equally slow 3 second return to the
attention position. I then commanded the crew to assume an at ease
position and directed them to properly place the pallet. The protocol
requires that the caskets are to be loaded so when it comes time to
exit the aircraft – they will go head first. We did this same procedure
for each and every pallet until we could not fit any more.

I felt a deep pit in my stomach when there were more caskets to be
brought home and that they would have to wait for the next jet to come
through. I tried to do everything in my power to bring more home but I
had no more space on board. When we were finally loaded, with our
precious cargo and fueled for the trip back to England, a Marine Corps
Colonel from first battalion came on board our jet in order to talk to
us. I gathered the crew to listen to him and his words of wisdom.

He introduced himself and said that it is the motto of the Marines
to leave no man behind and it makes their job easier knowing that there
were men like us to help them complete this task. He was very grateful
for our help and the strings that we were pulling in order to get this
mission done in the most expeditious manner possible. He then said -”
Major Zarnik – these are MY MARINES and I am giving them to you. Please
take great care of them as I know you will.” I responded with telling
him that they are my highest priority and that although this was one of
the saddest days of my life, we are all up for the challenge and will
go above and beyond to take care of your Marines – “Semper Fi Sir” A
smile came on his face and he responded with a loud and thunderous,
“Ooo Rah”. He then asked me to please pass along to the families that
these men were extremely brave and had made the ultimate sacrifice for
their country and that we appreciate and empathize with what they are
going through at this time of their grievance. With that, he departed
the jet and we were on our way to England.

I had a lot of time to think about the men that I had the
privilege to carry. I had a chance to read the manifest on each and
every one of them. I read about their religious preferences, their
marital status, the injuries that were their cause of death. All of
them were under age 27 with most in the 18-24 range. Most of them had
wives and children. They had all been killed by an ” IED” which I can
only deduce as an (improvised) explosive devices. Mostly fatal head
injuries and injuries to the chest area. I could not even imagine the
bravery that they must have displayed and the agony suffered in this
God Forsaken War. My respect and admiration for these men and what they
are doing to help others in a foreign land is beyond calculation. I
know that they are all with God now and in a better place.

The stop in Mildenhal was uneventful and then we pressed on to
Dover where we would meet the receiving Marine Corps honor guard. When
we arrived, we applied the same procedures in reverse. The head of each
casket was to come out first. This was a sign of respect rather than
defeat. As the honor guard carried each and every American flag covered
casket off of the jet, they delivered them to awaiting families with
military hearses. I was extremely impressed with how diligent the Honor
Guard had performed the seemingly endless task of delivering each of
the caskets to the families without fail and with precision. There was
not a dry eye on our crew or in the crowd. The Chaplain then said a
prayer followed by a speech from Lt. Col. Klaus of the second
Battalion. In his speech, he also reiterated similar condolences to the
families as the Colonel from First Battalion back in Kuwait.

I then went out to speak with the families as I felt it was my
duty to help console them in this difficult time. Although I would
probably be one of the last military contacts that they would have for
a while – the military tends to take care of it’s own. I wanted to make
sure that they did not feel abandoned and more than that appreciated
for their ultimate sacrifice. It was the most difficult thing that I
have ever done in my life. I listened to the stories of each and every
one that I had come in contact with and they all displayed a sense of
pride during an obviously difficult time. The Marine Corps had
obviously prepared their families well for this potential outcome.

So, why do I write this story to you all? I just wanted to put a
little personal attention to the numbers that you hear about and see in
the media. It is almost like we are desensitized by the “numbers” of
our fallen comrades coming out of Iraq. I heard one commentator say
that “it is just a number”. Are you kidding me? These are our American
Soldiers not numbers! It is truly a sad situation that I hope will end
soon. Please hug and embrace your loved ones a little closer and know
that there are men out there that are defending you and trying to make
this a better world. Please pray for their families and when you hear
the latest statistic’s and numbers of our soldiers killed in combat,
please remember this story. It is the only way that I know to more
personalize these figures and have them truly mean something to us all.

Thanks for all of your support for me and my family as I take on
this new role in completing my Air Force Career and supporting our
country. I greatly appreciate all of your comments, gestures and
prayers.

May God Bless America, us all, and especially the United States Marine Corps.

Semper Fi

Maj. Zarnik, USAFR

Thank a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine

(this ‘piece’ was originally written on my church website, but I thought I’d start a place to discuss it here, given the timeliness of these events).

These comments are in no way intended to be political, but merely on
the occasion of the successful elections in Iraq to repeat the
oft-offered appreciation for those who serve in our military and other
national and foreign services. I say the successful elections
in Iraq because they happened. That alone is success as were the
formative steps of our own country’s liberation from tyranny in the American Revolution and the march to the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution, culminating in the mightiest protector of freedom in the world.

I’m watching Fox news at the moment and there is a terribly wounder soldier — horribly
maimed and scarred — who is touting the success in Iraq, stating that
“this is what the soldiers who have died have sacrificed for.” The news
article was featuring the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.

their site wrote:

Every day a  wounded veteran and their family must struggle to overcome the loss of
a limb, significant burns, or even the reality of being in a
wheelchair. Our mission is to help them overcome these obstacles and
resume a productive and fulfilling life.

I hope we will take a moment to think of, pray for, and thank those who
serve and who have served, including our own Corporal Matthew Matula
(a member of Trinity Episcopal church) who, among others, gave his life so that others — in Iraq and beyond — could have the opportunity to live freely as do we. I’m confident
that even in their daily grief, Matt, Toni and Anthony know that
Matthew contributed to something that exemplifies what America is all
about.

Even as I write this, the news channel has video of Iraqis
going to the polls in numbers and in spite of the terror and threats of
consequences of doing so, stepped out in public, showed their faces and
even had their hands stamped with the blue ink “brand” as one who
voted. Facing guns, bullets and bombs, the Iraqi people may have voted
in higher turnout than do we in this country — initial reports are of
a 68% turnout. And it wasn’t easy, they had to walk to the polls since
the roads were shut down.

That this is happening in Iraq (click here for background on Iraq) is not what’s important.

The point is that it is happening anywhere.
Iraq is not the first country that America has liberated, but it’s the
first one in a very long time. We’ve given them the opportunity and no
matter the end result, we gave them our best.

So, my God-fearing and worshipping friends, it being my opinion that the religious segment
of this country is what keeps freedom and democracy alive, I just
wanted to share these thoughts with you. As one who does his little
part for freedom and democracy by the daily dispensing of justice, I’m
proud to worship at Terrific Trinity (my euphamism for the great place where Jennifer and I are privileged to worship) with each of you. What we Trinitarians do is important and indeed is part of this world-wide
reverberration of freedom.

As I close, please pray for all military personnel and especially for those from or with ties to Trinity:

Clint
Barkley, Will Barkley, James Barrineau, Paul Bogert, Michael Cobaugh,
Robert Eaton, Jr., W.A. Fisher, Joseph Fletchel, Tom Garven,
Christopher Hernandez, Dawn Hernandez, Serena Hokkanen, Marlin Horton,
P.C. Hudson, Andrew Hyde, Tucker Lewis, David Little, Yancey Loyless,
Craig Normand, Mark Roberts, Thomas Searle, and Tommy Sharp.