JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Jan. 10, 2019) -- Service members who die in a theater of operation while serving their country are given a solemn, dignified transfer to honor their lives in service of our country.

The whole procedure takes just a few minutes. Aside from a quiet prayer by a chaplain and a few "present, arms" orders from the transfer team leader, no words are spoken as the Soldier's body is moved off an aircraft.

This time that transfer team leader was Lt. Col. Doug Ralph, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command-Fort Belvoir, Virginia, contracting office commander. It is DOD protocol for a senior ranking officer of the fallen member's service presides over the dignified transfer of the deceased's remains.

Ralph served as a special escort for the remains of Sgt. James Slape during Veterans Day weekend. Slape, 23, died Oct. 4, 2018, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, from an improvised explosive device. His Army National Guard unit, the 430th Ordnance Company from Washington, North Carolina, had been in the country since April 2018. Slape died in the southern province, where the Taliban have remained historically resistant throughout the 17-year war. As an explosive ordnance technician, he was responding to help with a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle that had hit a roadside bomb. Slape was reportedly sweeping around the vehicle for secondary explosives when he was killed by an explosion.

A dignified transfer is the process by which, upon the return from the theater of operations to the United States, the remains of fallen military members are transferred from the aircraft to a waiting vehicle and then to the port mortuary. The dignified transfer is not a ceremony; rather, it is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member's respective service.

This was not the first time Ralph and Slape crossed paths. Ralph's mother and Slape's mother have been friends since high school, and it was Slape's mother who asked Ralph to bring her son home to her.

"I was introduced to Jimmy a few times when he was in high school, and encouraged him to join the Army," Ralph said. "We lost touch after he joined the Army. His mother, Trish, called and asked me to serve as the special escort. She also asked if I would stay for the viewing, and funeral services during the weekend."

Ralph did not hesitate to honor her request. He left his Fort Belvior office and drove to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, to receive Slape's remains and begin the journey to Newport, North Carolina.

"I represented the Army, and ensured that Sergeant Slape was honored with the utmost respect," Ralph said.

At Dover AFB, Ralph received briefings on the process and signed for items to be transferred. These items included Slape's award medal sets that included a Purple Heart and Bronze Star as well as the transfer paperwork. Ralph then inspected the remains, the transfer equipment, participated in the dignified transfer to the aircraft and flew with Slape to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

"We participated in another dignified transfer that had the streets lined for four miles to the funeral home in Newport," Ralph said. "Once there I did a follow-on inspection of the remains and the casket; I made some minor adjustments to his uniform and ensured everything was in order prior to his family seeing him for the first time."

Upon Ralph's arrival and prior to his departure from Newport, he served as an assistance officer for the family and helped out where he could until when the funeral was over.

"I felt sorry for the family's loss, but also a sense of pride in the commitment from the community to support the event and the family," Ralph said. "Since the event was scheduled over the Veterans Day weekend, it really showed a bigger commitment from the community to support all those who have served, are serving now, and also provided as an example for those who will serve in the future. It was a very emotional event."

About the MICC:
Headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.