Obama Honors Fallen Americans At Dover Air Base

President Obama made a midnight trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor the return of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan. He was taking part in a solemn process to transfer the remains of 15 soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency agents from the C-17 cargo plane to a base mortuary.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Shortly after midnight last night, a military cargo plane landed at the Air Force base in Dover, Delaware. It carried the bodies of 18 Americans killed this week in Afghanistan. As the flag-draped remains were lowered from the aircraft, uniformed servicemen stood at attention along with a civilian in a dark suit, the commander-in-chief.

President Obama traveled to Dover to witness the arrival, even as he contemplates sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. NPR's Scott Horsley is just back from Delaware and joins us.

And Scott, this must've been a somber homecoming in the middle of the night. Would you describe more of the scene for us?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Renee, the president left the White House just before midnight. His staff had kept the wraps on this visit right up until the last minute. And the first thing he did when he got to Dover was to go to a chapel on the Air Force base for a private meeting with some of the families.

And then four times during the night the president climbed into the belly of the C17, along with an Air Force chaplain, who said a prayer, and then Mr. Obama stood at attention as soldiers in white gloves and black berets carried each of the 18 cases off the plane into a waiting van.

The Air Force mortuary in Dover calls this process a dignified transfer. And that name is pretty fitting.

MONTAGNE: Scott, for years, of course, there were no pictures of the military dead as they passed through Dover. That changed this spring under the Obama administration. How has that affected the families of those who are brought there?

HORSLEY: Well, the families still have a choice of whether they want their loved ones' homecoming to be made public or not. In the case of this arrival, only one of the families authorized reporters to follow the proceeding. So we were allowed to witness the arrival of Dale Griffin.

He's an Army sergeant from Terra Haute, Indiana. Sergeant Griffin was a champion high school wrestler who enlisted in the Army soon after 9/11. And he was killed on Monday of this week when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. In a way, Sgt. Griffin's homecoming offered kind of a window into the sacrifice of all of those who've died in Afghanistan, especially during what has been a very deadly week and month.

MONTAGNE: And one has to imagine that this weighs on President Obama as he considers the possibility of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

HORSLEY: Well, of course it does. And he's said any number of times he really feels the weight of his office most when he's signing condolence letters. Mr. Obama's due to meet tomorrow with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan. And earlier this week he told sailors and Marines in Jacksonville he won't be rushed into a decision and that he would only send them into harm's way if it were absolutely necessary.

MONTAGNE: Scott, thank you very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Scott Horsley was at Dover Air Force base in Delaware when President Obama was on hand to witness the arrival of the remains of Americans killed this week in Afghanistan.

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