Saying goodbye with respect, dignity, pride

Master Sgt. Robert Branham
332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron

***image1***BALAD, Iraq  — Somewhere in America a family member was waiting for a relative who was returning home. He was returning early, having served his profession with pride and excellence.

We wouldn’t be there to honor his arrival, but we were here to see him off with respect and dignity. His title, and the title of thousands of his like-minded brothers and sisters, was specialist. For their profession is to defend the United States of America.

The Soldiers of his unit and the Airmen of ours stood at attention, in a cordon of desert camouflage uniforms, as six of his unit’s young men stood ready to carry their brother to his place on the start of his journey home. Just before they began their solemn march, we were ordered to present arms, and for three seconds our right arms were slowly raised to touch the corner of our eyes. As the detail passed we held our salute, honoring our comrade in arms and the Stars and Stripes. We held our salute until he was secured in his place of honor, then after the first sergeant’s command, we slowly brought our arms to our side.

Still at attention, with eyes straight ahead, I could observe several faces with trails of tears, men and women alike, young and old. For we had lost one of our own, one who put service before self.

Next, the Army chaplain marched between our columns to join his troop on the plane. Only then were we released from formation, but were told we could march onto the plane for the chaplain’s comments. No one walked away. Every member of the formation joined together, side by side, until there was no room to stand inside the plane. The others stood respectfully just outside the plane’s rear entrance, as the chaplain recited the 23rd Psalm before he said a prayer for our departing brother and for his family.

Slowly we left the plane so the specialist could begin the journey home. As I looked back into the cargo bay, I saw something I will never forget. Members of his unit saluted the flag on their own; some touched it respectfully. One soldier leaned over and put his forehead briefly next to the stars, as if putting his forehead on his brother’s forehead.

As our Air Force members slowly left the area, the Army again fell into formation. They stood at attention as the plane rolled away.

Yes, somewhere someone was waiting for this loved one’s final journey home. We wish he hadn’t left early. We gave him a final salute with heartfelt pride and professional excellence. His sacrifice to duty, honor, and country demanded we offer no less. We are the profession of arms. All of us made a commitment to serve. Most of us make some sacrifice while in service. Some make the ultimate sacrifice.
(Air Force Print News)