Somber holiday homecoming: Airmen’s remains arrive in Delaware

DOVER — A Dover-based C-17 brought home the remains of six U.S. Air Force members killed earlier this week in Afghanistan Wednesday afternoon.

A solemn dignified transfer ceremony was held at the Air National Guard Base in New Castle before the bodies were transported to Dover Air Force Base, home of the military’s port mortuary.

Weather conditions at Dover Air Force Base — it was rainy and foggy for most of the day in Delaware’s capital city — forced the ceremony’s shift to New Castle.

Media, which requires family permission, only was invited to document the transfer of Air Force Staff Sgt. Chester J. McBride.

He was one of six airmen killed in Afghanistan Monday when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber near Bagram Air Base, outside Kabul. The bomber drove his explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol.

It was the deadliest day for American troops in Afghanistan since May 2013.

Two Americans, including an airman who resides in Kent County, and an Afghan also were wounded in the attack. No information on the wounded has been released by the Department of Defense or Dover Air Force Base.

A steady rain fell as an honor guard from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington carefully placed Staff Sgt. McBride’s transfer case in a white van for its journey to Dover. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James were among those paying their respects.

The 30-year-old, of Statesboro, Georgia, was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 405, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

“The tragic loss of six airmen casts a dark shadow over our Air Force this holiday season,” said Secretary James late Tuesday in a social media post. “As we collectively mourn with their families and loved ones, let us never forget their courage, bravery, and selflessness. These airmen volunteered to serve their country and by doing so, gave a full measure of devotion.”

The six deaths bring the death toll to 21 — including one civilian — for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the Department of Defense’s name for current action in Afghanistan. Another 73 have been wounded as of Dec. 23.

Military casualties from the variously named operations from Oct. 7, 2001, up to Dec. 23 are at 6,860 dead and 52,395 wounded in action. In addition, 18 Department of Defense civilian employees have been killed.

The mission of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation through the dignified transfer is to ensure each fallen troop is given dignity, honor and respect, along with support to their families, as the remains are transferred from an aircraft to the transfer vehicle that will take them to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System located within the Port Mortuary at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base.

Once positively identified, fallen service members are prepared for transport to their final destination as determined by the family.

Also killed in Monday’s attack, according to the Department of Defense, were:

• Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, 36, of Plymouth, Minnesota. She was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 9th Field Investigations Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

• Staff Sgt. Michael A. Cinco, 28, of Mercedes, Texas. He was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 11th Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

• Staff Sgt. Peter W. Taub, 30, of Philadelphia. He was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 816, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

• Technical Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm, 45, of Bronx, New York. He was assigned to the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.

• Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa, 31, of Coram, New York. He was assigned to the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.

At Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, more than 200 service members gathered to salute the six airmen who were killed Monday. (Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

At Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, more than 200 service members gathered to salute the six airmen who were killed Monday. (Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

A half a world away in Afghanistan, more than 200 service members gathered Wednesday morning in a clamshell tent on Bagram Airfield to honor and mourn the six, according to the Air Force News Service. Those gathered represented multiple branches of service from nearly every unit on the airfield.

Task Force Crimson, which is primarily comprised of Office of Special Investigations and security forces airmen, contributes to the joint, multinational force protection efforts for the Bagram area including outside-the-wire security.

“How do we honor these six heroes?” asked Lt. Col. David Kelley, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain. “We honor them by pressing on with the mission. The same mission they were willing to give their lives for.”

At the conclusion of the memorial ceremony, according to the AFNWS article, service members paid their respects at the battlefield crosses placed in front with each person taking a turn to drop to a knee and touching the boot or photo placed beneath the downward-turned rifle. Each then stood, and saluted the fallen comrade.

Associated Press, Air Force News and the Department of Defense contributed to this report.

Service members from several units at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, pay their respects Wednesday during a fallen comrade ceremony held in honor of the six airmen killed Monday. (Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau)

Service members from several units at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, pay their respects Wednesday during a fallen comrade ceremony held in honor of the six airmen killed Monday. (Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau)

 

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