We don’t bury our fallen here in Afghanistan. There are no wide fields of white markers, row on row in their thousands, as there are in Normandy, or the Phillippines, here.
And since we do not bury our dead here, we do not have funerals here.
But we do mark their passing. The brief ritual is known as a Ramp Ceremony.
Ramps, for those of you who haven’t worked at airfields, are the broad expanses of concrete where airplanes park, or roll out to the taxiway enroute to the runway for takeoff. I suppose it’s a holdover from the days of the PanAm Clippers, when there really was a sloping ramp from the hanger down to the water where the flying boats take off.
At any rate, several thousand of us, formed up by national group (and uniform — all the civilians were squirreled away behind the senior officers) to mark the passing of two US soldiers killed by a roadside bomb this week. We milled around out front for quite a while, until there was a break in the runway traffic, and finally the gate was opened and we were called in.
Each nation formed up in their units. The Canadians were wearing their berets for the occasion. The Australian infantry were wearing their famous bush hats. The American army made a long, long group. The desert boots we wear all have rubber soles, so there was not the “sound of marching” I recalled from officer training, that slap of shoeleather on pavement.
Just these large, silent groups forming up, and moving off to take their positions in the gathering twilight. We formed up on either side of the C-17 cargo plane (from McCord AFB, near us in Tacoma WA). If you can imagine a couple of football fields joined together at the end zones, filled with troops standing shoulder to shoulder, leaving an aisle down the middle, that would be close.
The color guard comes down the aisle, and the chaplain commends the fallen to God’s care with brief words. The pallbearers come down the aisle, carrying their comrades one by one up the loading ramp into the cargo hold.
As the cargo door closes with a whine of hydraulics, the bugler sounds the sweet, sad notes of Taps.
And we send them home. So think of them, and their widows and their sons and their daughters, this Fathers Day.