Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pilot of Plane Who Carried our Dear SEAL Brothers Back to Dover AFB.

I wanted to wait until Sept 11 to share this note from William Daughtery, a C-17 pilot that had the honor of flying the Navy Seals back from Afghanistan. But I couldn’t wait until then.

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Written by a C-17 Pilot flying the Navy Seals back to Dover AFB.

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I had an unforgettable day yesterday and wanted to share it with you. I

know we've all sat around and discussed in detail why we do what we do and

if we will be willing to continue to do what we do day in and day out

regardless of deployments, retirement decisions, job opportunities, missed

birthdays, missed holidays, etc. This is something I wanted to share and

you were the people that came to mind. It's another reason I continue to

serve. I guess because many others do and sacrifice a lot more, some even

their lives.

My crew was alerted yesterday to find that our mission had changed. We

were now a backup to a high priority mission originating from Afghanistan.

When I asked where we would be going the answer was "back to the states".

Later I learned our destination was Dover.

I was the aircraft commander for one of two C-17s that transferred the

Chinook helicopter crash soldiers back home. The crew that started this

mission in Afghanistan would end up running out of crew duty day and need

another crew to continue the soldier's journey. We just happened to be

available. After being alerted and going through our normal sequence, I

found myself at the foot of the aircraft steps.

Before I took my first step upward I noticed a transfer case close to the

door. I had only seen one in pictures. The American Flag was tucked

smartly, folded and secured on top. I paused at the bottom of the stairs,

took a deep breath and continued up with my mind and eyes focusing on making

it to the next ladder leading to the cockpit. However, as I entered, I

couldn't help but notice the remaining nineteen transfer cases in the cargo

compartment. The entire cargo compartment was filled with identical

transfer cases with American Flags. I made my way up to the cockpit and

received a briefing from the previous aircraft commander. After the

briefing we exchanged a handshake and the other pilot was on his way.

I felt a need to ensure the crew focused on their normal duties. I

instructed the other two pilots to began the preflight. I went back down

into the cargo compartment to see what needed to be done and find the

paperwork I needed to sign. The cargo compartment was now filled with

numerous people from the mortuary affairs squadron. They were busy

adjusting, resetting and overall preparing the cases for their continued

flight. Before they began I asked who was in charge because I knew there

was paperwork I needed to sign. I finally found a Staff Sergeant who was

working an issue with the paperwork. After it was complete, he brought it

up to the cockpit for me to review and sign.

There are moments in life I will never forget. For me, it's the days my son

and daughter were born. Another occurred five months ago when I had to

deliver the unthinkable news to a mother that her son was killed in

Afghanistan and although I didn't anticipate another day like that this

soon, yesterday was another. I looked at the paperwork I was signing and

realized the magnitude of the day. I glanced over the paperwork and signed.

In a way, I felt I had taken ownership of these fallen soldiers. It was now

my duty to ensure they make it home.

After confirming the preflight was complete and the aircraft was fueled, I

went outside to start my walk-around. As I walked down the steps, a bus had

parked in front of the aircraft and unloaded eleven passengers. The

passengers were fellow SEAL team members who were escorting the fallen back

to the states. I stood at the front of the aircraft and watched them board.

Every one of them walked off the bus with focus in their eyes and

determination in their steps; just as I imagine they do when they go on a

mission. I made eye contact with the lead SEAL, nodded my head in respect

and he nodded back.

Finishing my walk-around, I stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I looked

up into the cargo compartment; two American Flags and one SEAL Team Six flag

hung from the top of the cargo compartment. Three of twenty transfer cases

visible; one with an American Flag and two with Afghan flags. I looked up

at my aircraft and saw, "United States Air Force" painted on the side and I

stood trying to take it all in. I wanted to make certain that I never

forget these images. That I never forget the faces of the SEALS, the smell

of the cargo compartment or the sun slowly rising over the landscape. It's

important that I don't forget. We need to honor the dead, honor the

sacrifice of the fallen.

I understand my role in getting these fallen soldiers home is insignificant

compared to the lives they lived and the things they did for our country.

Most of it we will never know. All I know is every American should see what

I've seen. Every American should see the bus loads of families as they exit

the freeway headed for Dover AFB to reunite with their fallen or witness the

amount of time, effort, people and equipment that go into ensuring our

fallen have a honorable return.

The very next day we took the same aircraft back overseas. We had leveled

the aircraft at our cruise altitude and I walked down to the cargo

compartment. No more American Flags hung from the ceiling. All the

transfer cases were gone.

Instead I watched a father lay with his son, cradled on his chest, on the

same spot that only yesterday held a fallen soldier. I watched a young

girl, clutching a teddy bear, sleeping quietly where the fallen had laid. I

realized so many Americans have no idea where the fallen lay.

I'm honored to be one that does.

1 comment:

  1. A great honor. Thank you for serving in a capacity few experience. Awesome.

    ReplyDelete