Most of you I spend my Tuesdays at the USO. It’s a place I love to be. I don’t have to be there. I get to be there. I thoroughly enjoy the kids. For a few hours, I get to be a small part of their lives. I listen to their stories. I hear about their families and why they joined the military. I tell them I’m so proud of them as I send them on their way, and I thank them for their service.
Two years ago I was asked to be part of the dignified transfer team. As heartbreaking as it is, it’s an extreme honor to be a part of this team. We assist and escort family and friends of fallen service members who are being flown home. It’s not always the ultimate sacrifice of a life being lost in a time of war. Sometimes it’s the result of an accident, but the military always honors their fallen. They pay their respects. They do it well. And we do what we can to provide another layer of assistance.
In my time being part of this team, I have served in this capacity three times. I was at the window of the airport twice, escorting, comforting, and protecting the families as they see their loved ones being carried to a waiting hearse.
I say protecting because people at the airport can be nosy and intrusive, especially when they see American flags flying, an honor guard, and police cars and fire trucks with flashing lights. I’ve been asked what celebrity is flying in. I’ve been asked, “Is it President Biden? I hear he’s making a surprise visit today.”
Most of the time when people see our USO logo they know. And they respect the family. The terminal becomes silent as the plane nears the jet bridge through a water arch being sprayed as a sign of respect from the fire department. People crowd around the nearby windows as our team surrounds the mourning family from those curious onlookers who remain unaware of the somberness of the occasion. Yesterday, I had a woman approach me to say she was sorry for my loss. And she hugged me. She’s a veteran, she said. She knew. She understood.
As the family was escorted to another part of the airport to be reunited with their service member, I turned and embraced the woman who wanted to comfort me. I thanked her. Her service to our nation is priceless.
Below are pictures and a video taken by an onlooker and shared with me. It’s a heart-wrenching scene. The tissues we carry in our backpack are utilized by everyone who understands what is happening. A Dignified Transfer.
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To my daughter, Thank you for your service. I am so very proud of you to be there for our returning heroes & their families.