Angel Flight is something that every American should have to see, but no one should ever see.
The call came across the speaker that at least one Soldier was on his way with a severe head injury. Estimated time of arrival, 45 minutes. The emergency room (ER) begins its very well organized preparation for the arrival of the Soldier. Another call came across, saying that now there maybe two Soldiers arriving, then another stated three. About 20 minutes out, yet another call came saying that only one Soldier would be arriving and he was in critical condition. Standing in the ER anticipating his arrival were one ER doctor, two surgeons, two anesthesia personal, a hand full of nurses and highly trained medics.
The call comes across the speaker, “two minutes out.” What seemed like the longest two minutes were so quickly interrupted with the most dreadful regarded words of all, “He’s expected”. We didn’t know if this meant that he had already died or if the crew thought he was going to die. All we knew is that within two minutes we were going to do everything that was in our power to send this Soldier home ALIVE!!
Two minutes past, the doors open up and the Soldier comes in on a stretcher with his head covered. We knew then that he had died in route. An erie silence falls upon the ER. The hopes of stealing his life back, slipped right past our fingers without us even having the opportunity to try. His life was taken away from us before we were able to change the, sometimes, horrific course of nature. Your gut seems empty. You want to throw up, you want to cry...... but there is nothing that you can do to, it’s over!
Within 12 hours, the Soldiers from his unit are all out in front of the hospital. They are preparing to execute with precise military excellence their final respects to their brother - they are preparing for the Angel Flight.
I (along with my colleagues) am out on the runway. We are facing the flag bearers and the back of the C-130. The flag bearers are holding the American flag and their company flag high with pride. The entire airport is silent. There are no engines running, no planes coming or going. There is complete silence. I look beyond the plane to the other side of the runway and I see a line of civilian workers standing in a straight formation. There is nothing by silence and respect.
“Platoon. Attention!! Right, face...... Forward, march!” is commanded from behind the concrete wall. “Go left.... go left .... go left” is what you hear from the Platoon Sergeant leading the deceased Soldier’s brothers across the flight line toward the C-130 plane. “Platoon halt! Left face.” The Soldiers now passionately await for the arrival of their beloved brother. There are tears of sadness, emptiness running down the faces of these brave and very strong Soldiers. To the left we see the ambulance carrier the departed Soldier being escorted by one his brothers inching slowly and painfully toward the flight line. The ambulance positions itself so that the back of it lines up perfectly to the back center of the open C-130. As we wait for the next movement, the ambulance’s engine is turned off. Again, silence falls upon us.
To our right, we hear “Forward, march.” A group of eight Soldiers, the pallbearers, four long and two wide, being lead by a Sergeant marches them to the either side of the ambulance. The back doors are opened. The command is given “Present Arms!” Every Soldiers holds their salute and the civilians across the runway place their right hand over the left chest. Then, two Soldiers at a time with crisp, razor sharp movements take either side of the American flag draped coffin and gently remove the Soldier from the ambulance, one smooth motion at a time.
Once the Soldier is out, the order is given and the pallbearers with sharp, harmonic motion rotate the coffin 180 degrees. The Soldier is then walked head first up the ramp into the C-130. You can hear the Chaplain that is standing on the back of the plane saying “The Lord in my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil....” Then, the Chaplain is up at the front of the plane with the Soldier. I can no longer hear what is being said. After a few moments the command “Right Face” is given and the pallbearers march off the back of the plane.
In the still, peaceful morning the command “Order, Arms” is given...............
With the most respectful regards,
CPT Tom Chenowith
I am posting this for a dear friend of mine who I have the highest regard for. He has already done one tour of duty in Baghdad and has recently been sent back to Mosul, Iraq for a second tour of duty. I may from time to time put up one of his post for him. He has conveyed to me his willingness to have his words heard in the US. He has a lovely wife and three small children one of who is less then a year old.
My Love and prayers are with him. May God bring him home safely.