Hamid Karzai International Airport Suicide Bombing

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Hamid Karzai International Airport Suicide Bombing

These are the Marines, a Sailor, and a Soldier, who paid the ultimate sacrifice at the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan. This will be a series of posts, one for each of the souls lost in this attack. This is hitting me very hard for some reason.

U.S. service members and coalition partners are assisting the Department of State with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. U.S. service members were at the Kabul airport to help evacuate tens of thousands of people left vulnerable after the Taliban took over the country.

August 26th’s suicide bombing by ISIS-K, killed 13 U.S. service members and 169 Afghans. Eleven of the 13 killed were Marines, and all but one were under the age of 30. Eighteen other U.S. service members were injured.

Pictured are the eleven flag-draped aluminum transfer cases carrying the remains of the eleven Marines, being flown back to the U.S. on a C-17 Globemaster military transport.

Once they arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, they were moved from the plane in what is called a dignified and solemn transfer (the event that President Biden, apparently had somewhere else to be). The dignified transfer is a very precise ceremony of transferring the Marines from the C-17 to transport to Dover Air Force Base, where the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System will positively identify the remains before the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations unit will ensure that the remains of these fallen heroes are properly prepared for their funerals around the U.S.

Pictured are the flag draped transfer cases carrying the remains of the fallen.
Pictured are the flag-draped transfer cases carrying the remains of the fallen.

If you have never heard of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations unit, then I highly encourage you to watch “Taking Chance”, which is a movie based on a true story, where Kevin Bacon flawlessly plays U.S. Marine Colonel Michael Strobl. Colonel Strobl escorts PFC Chance Phelps’ remains to Montana, where he meets Phelps’ family and attends the funeral. You should also read the USA Today article about the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Unit.

Once the remains are ready for their funeral, they are transported by military escort to their final destination. Every detail is exact and precise, the American flag must be placed so that the union (blue field) is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. The remains are always transported feet first at all times, with only two rare exceptions.

The Military Funeral
Every detail is taken care of at a military funeral and there is an exacting standard that must be followed. You will notice details like the folding of the flag and presenting it to the next of kin.

American Flag or National Ensign
The flag used for military funerals is known as the Interment Flag, this is a large star flag with larger stars than the standard American flag, these flags are not sold to the public. The flag is carefully taken from the casket and silently folded by the honor guard. There are 13 folds in the flag and each fold has a meaning (this will be a post for a different day), once the flag has been folded and tucked in, it will have an appearance of a cocked hat, worn by colonial soldiers during the Revolutionary War. When folded, no red or white stripe is to be evident, leaving only the blue field with stars. When the flag is presented to the next of kin, the military official will present the flag to the next of kin.

Presenting the flag
Once the flag has been folded, it is ceremoniously marched to the next of kin and presented to them. The military official should be from the same service as the deceased. They will stand facing the flag recipient and hold the folded flag waist high with the straight edge facing the recipient. Then they will lean toward the flag recipient and solemnly present the flag to the recipient.

The following words, mandated by the DOD, will be used when presenting the American flag during the funeral service:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, (the United States Army; the United States Marine Corps; the United States Navy; the United States Air Force or the United States Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Depending on availability, most military funerals will have the firing of three volleys (often incorrectly referred to as a 21-gun salute). The three volleys come from an old battlefield custom. The two warring sides would cease hostilities to clear their dead from the battlefield, and the firing of three volleys meant that the dead had been properly cared for and the side was ready to resume the battle. A 21-gun salute is actually performed using large-caliber weapons, like a cannon. As in the military, a gun is a large-caliber weapon. A rifle is considered small arms, not a gun.

Depending on the ceremony, three casings from the spent rounds during the three volleys are either slipped into the flag before being presented to the family, or the rounds are presented separately. These three casings are another gesture of respect and military tradition, presenting the three volleys.

You will always hear the playing of Taps at a military funeral. Taps is a traditional bugle call sounded at military funerals by an official bugler if available or by electronic means. The honor guard presents a final salute to the deceased veteran during the playing of taps. Taps has a rich history in the U.S. Military dating back to the Civil War. In 1862, U.S. General Daniel Butterfield was dissatisfied with the standard bugle call employed by the Army to indicate to troops it was time to go to sleep. He reworked the call into what we know today as Taps.

It was played for the first time at a funeral during the Civil War, as a way to represent the three volleys, so the enemy would not think the firing of rifles was a hostile action. Beginning in 1891, the playing of Taps became standard at military funeral ceremonies and was legislated in 2013 as the “National Song of Military Remembrance.” The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2000 directed the playing of Taps at veterans’ military funerals. Today it is a military tradition, played every evening at 9. p.m. on U.S. military installations around the world to symbolize the start of quiet hours.

Eleven of the servicemembers killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing were Marines. They were: Hunter Lopez, Rylee McCollum, David Lee Espinoza, Kareem Nikoui, Jared Schmitz, Daegan Page, Taylor Hoover, Humberto Sanchez, Johanny Rosario Pichardo, Dylan Merola, and Nicole Gee.

Also killed were Navy corpsman Max Soviak and Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss.

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