By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)November 16, 2011
EDGEWOOD, Md. -- "Look at what the sacrifices of a few have bought the many. It is our freedom, and it is our opportunity.
"These young men and women who are asked to sacrifice are our greatest treasure. Every generation since the founding of our nation has had those who have answered that call."
Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, Aberdeen Proving Ground senior installation commander, shared his experiences of honoring fallen Soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 as he spoke to about 150 people Nov. 15 during an Association of the U.S. Army-Aberdeen Chapter meeting at Richlin Ballroom.
Justice recalled several emotional visits to Dover Air Force Base, Del., where he served as senior Army officer during the proceedings. Servicemembers from all military branches who are killed in action arrive at Dover AFB's mortuary for funeral preparations before their journey home.
Justice shared the somber details as personnel performed their duties with solemn and meticulous precision.
"It is part of our creed to never leave a fallen comrade, even in death," Justice said. "I wanted to share with you what it's like to be an officer given the hardest duty in the world. That is a duty to bring a young fallen Soldier home and lay him to rest.
"I have had the privilege of being the officer called to Dover numerous times. I recall one time in the middle of February, when I walked aboard that aircraft there were 17 transfer cases for 17 fallen Soldiers."
The military takes pride in properly recognizing those who have given their lives for freedom, Justice said. Each part of the process is designed to honor the Soldier's commitment to America.
"The Army invariably is the senior organization on the ground because we always send a general officer to every Dover flight with an American Soldier on it," he said. "It is part of the way we remember our own commitment. It is part of the way that we honor that Soldier's sacrifice.
"It took us three-and-a-half hours to unload that aircraft between 1:30 in the morning to 5. Every Soldier was brought home in the arms of a fellow Soldier. The symbolism of that is incredible."
Justice remarked on the meaning each part of a military funeral fulfills. The flag, honor guard and 21-gun salute play vital roles for Soldiers and their families.
"The symbolism of how we honor our fellow Soldiers is incredible. Number one, we never leave him on the battlefield. That means he's escorted home," he said. "The honor guard arrives there as that Soldier is arriving home. They stand guard with that coffin through the night before the funeral.
"At the funeral, the honor guard moves that coffin draped under those colors. With that flag covering the coffin, the color guard will fire a 21-gun salute -- three volleys of seven rifles. It's the highest honor our nation can render."
The men and women who have lost their lives are remembered through the Army flag's streamers that mark each campaign fought in American history.
"Our history is built on the blood of the Army. If you take every one of those ribbons you see on the Army streamer, you would know the history of our nation. You would understand the price at which our freedoms come," Justice said.