By Gerry J. GilmoreMarch 18, 2009
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Del., last night to pay his respects to four servicemembers killed recently in Afghanistan, a senior Pentagon official said here today.
Gates "wanted to personally honor the sacrifice" of the three soldiers and one airman who died last weekend in a roadside bomb attack near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
Jalalabad is located between the Afghan capital of Kabul and the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
The secretary's visit to Dover last night "was a very moving experience for him," Morrell said.
Gates has wanted to visit the facilities at Dover for some time, Morrell said. Dover's Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs is the Defense Department's largest joint-service mortuary facility, and the only one in the continental United States. Dover also is the U.S. military's largest air terminal.
"The secretary was enormously impressed by the professionalism of the aircrew, the honor guards, the mortuary affairs personnel, and really everyone involved in this process," Morrell said. "He very much appreciates their steadfast commitment to treating our returning war dead as the fallen heroes they truly are."
There was no media presence during Gates' visit to Dover, Morrell said.
"We did not travel even with an official photographer," Morrell said, noting the trip was "merely a personal visit of the secretary's."
Meanwhile, Morrell said, a Defense Department working group probably is within weeks of presenting its recommendations for implementing a change in policy to allow the news media to photograph the flag-draped caskets of returning fallen servicemembers with their families' permission. Gates announced the policy change Feb. 26.
"There is still some additional work to do, and the secretary has to sign off on the final recommendations of the working group, in terms of how this is going to all take place," Morrell said.