Another 4th of July is here and all across the nation, millions of us will celebrate in thousands of different ways. Our military members around the world will miss out on hometown celebrations, instead, performing the duties assigned to them. This story is in honor of them.
As a commercial pilot, I too see the effects of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month I showed up to start a trip and was approached by a gate agent. “Captain, good morning, I wanted to inform you that we have H.R. on this flight”, she said. H.R. stands for human remains. “Are they military”, I asked. “Yes”, she said. “Is there and escort”, I asked. “Yes, I already assigned him a seat”, she said. “Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck, you can board him early”, I said.
A short while later, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier. The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and with us. “My soldier is on his way back to Virginia”, he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words on his own. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he has the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the flight deck to find his seat.
We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin. “I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is onboard”, he said. He then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year-old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait 4 hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia. The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when he asked me if there was anything I could do. “I’m on it”, I said. I told him that I would get back to him. Read the rest…