Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, we honor those who paid the ultimate price for freedom

Yesterday at the same moment the rest of the world was focusing on the tanking of the stock market, the dedicated professionals of Bagram Air Field's Mortuary Affairs Detatchment went about the important work of caring for and preparing the remains of 31 US Military members who perished in the Helicopter crash in Wardak Province over the weekend. I have been to the facility where they work and have met these soldiers whose mission is the dignified recovery and preparation of the remains of their fallen comrades.

Two C-17 Aircraft were parked and the transport carrying the 31 flag draped coffins arrived. The process of preparing these splendid warriors for their return home is one that has occurred before and will be repeated in the future as there are two constants that prevail here:

1. Young men die in war
2. Commanders, NCOs, Doctors, Nurses and all others are unable to change item #1.

Each of the men on that fated helicopter knew the risk, was doing what they wanted to and had trained for. It was the misfortune that the enemy also was well trained, aware of where they would be and what could cause the greatest loss of life.

The US Military will prevail against those who are unwilling to allow freedom in this stark and dangerous land. Like many before them, these warriors will be remembered and revered for their selfless service to our nation and the cause of freedom.

Afghan Crash Remains On Way To US
Flights Expected In Delaware On Tuesday
By David Ariosto - CNN
August 8, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Two military transport aircraft bearing the remains of the 38 U.S. and Afghan personnel killed on board a helicopter shot down Saturday have departed Bagram, Afghanistan, and are headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said Monday.

The flights are expected to arrive at Dover sometime Tuesday.

Everyone inside the CH-47 Chinook was killed, marking the worst single-day loss of American life since the beginning of the Afghan war, NATO reported.

The inbound helicopter -- loaded with 30 U.S. service members, a civilian interpreter and seven Afghan troops -- crashed after being "reportedly fired on by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade," the statement said.

Twenty-five of those on board were U.S. special operations forces, including 22 Navy SEALs. Five air crew members were also on board.

"Their loss is a stark reminder of the risks that our men and women in uniform take every single day on behalf of their country," U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday. "Day after day, night after night, they carry out missions like this in the face of enemy fire and grave danger."

Obama said he has spoken with U.S. military officials in the field and with Afghan President Hamid Krazai. "We will press on and we will succeed," he said. But the president added that "now is also a time to reflect on those we lost" and on the sacrificies of all who have served, as well as their families.

The president discussed the incident at the end of televised remarks focused on the economy.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking earlier, said, "The thoughts and prayers of the entire nation are with the families and with the loved ones of those we lost in Afghanistan over the weekend. They were far from home, but we know that they were also where they wanted to be."

"As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan," Panetta added. "Instead, we will send a strong message of American resolve from this tragedy, we draw even greater inspiration to carry on the fight."

Until Monday, military officials had been largely tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the crash, which occurred in the rugged Tangi Valley area of Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul.

The events leading up to the crash began when insurgents -- armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47 assault rifles -- engaged in small arms fire with coalition forces on the ground, NATO reported. ISAF forces were carrying out an operation targeting a known Taliban leader in the area.

Several militants were killed in the gunbattle, officials said. Coalition troops called in additional forces to assist in the operation as the firefight continued.

"Those additional personnel were inbound to the scene when the CH-47 carrying them crashed, killing all on board," NATO said.

The troops on the ground immediately left the scene of the insurgent firefight "to secure the scene and search for survivors."

NATO spokesman Brigadier Gen. Cartsen Jacobsen said the crash site has been cordoned off while recovery efforts continue.

An investigation is under way, he said.

"The recent fighting season has not materialized as the insurgents had predicted," Jacobsen told reporters in Kabul. "But the insurgents are resilient and far from defeated."

Jacobsen told reporters there was no indication of newer, more sophisticated weapons, responding to rumors that Taliban insurgents may have been the beneficiaries of better equipment during the exchange.

Saturday's crash represents the second downed NATO helicopter by insurgent fire in recent weeks. A helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan in July, though no casualties were reported.

Despite Saturday's loss, Afghan and NATO operations do not appear to have relented.

On Monday, more than 100 demonstrators in Ghazni province protested over what they say is the killing of two people during a NATO raid, according to provincial council chief Hamid Ullah Nawroz.

ISAF spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff confirmed that there was a joint Afghan-NATO raid late Sunday evening in the area that killed two insurgents, uncovered a munitions cache and detained "numerous suspected insurgents."

Meanwhile, NATO says one of its helicopters made a hard landing Monday in southeastern Afghanistan.

The Navy transport helicopter went down in Paktika province, though "initial reporting indicated there was no enemy activity."

No casualties were reported.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report
Copyright CNN 2011

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