ARLINGTON, Va. - Every time Capt. Justin Anderson receives the call, he wonders if this time he’s bringing one of his own friends home to rest.
As a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Anderson, executive officer, 1st Battalion, is among a brotherhood of soldiers that participate in the dignified transfer of remains of service members whom die overseas in combat.
“The first thing that comes to mind is do I know this person,” said Anderson. “I have quite a few friends who are deployed to combat zones.”
Sometimes carry teams may or may not receive names, but knowing who he’s escorting home never matters to Anderson as his thoughts are always with them.
“I try to think about what happened to that person and I really appreciate what they’ve given for all of us,” said Anderson.
Although Old Guard soldiers can never give back what those they accompany have given, soldiers take this solemn duty seriously. They often stay at the Dover Air Force Base, DE terminal around the clock while awaiting dignified transfers; some which arrive as early as 4 a.m. It’s a small sacrifice soldiers said does not compare.
“For me to sacrifice those hours compared to what they’ve sacrificed is nothing,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Rogers, a Charlie Company squad leader.
For Rogers, participating in this special welcome home offers closure to some of his own personal experiences in combat.
“I’ve known people personally who were killed in action in Afghanistan, but to come back and do this closes the loop on what happens to them. I get to see this part of their journey home,” said Rogers.
Unfortunately for carry teams, sometimes transfers aren’t just for one soldier. The recent deadly crash of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan brought 30 fallen warriors home to Dover. Despite the vast amount of families and prominent government officials present, including the President of the United States, Old Guard soldiers carried out the same level of professionalism.
“We wanted to make sure we did it right, from every step to every movement, even the small things such as not letting the handles on the transfer case make noise when we let them down,” said Hotel Company 1st Sgt. Scott Thomas.
It’s this level of honor for fallen soldiers and their families that speak volumes of the service of The Old Guard.
“I am constantly and consistently impressed with the Old Guard soldiers. It’s important to receive our fallen comrades with dignity and respect whether they are on a stretcher or deceased, and each time I see the soldiers do it, they are perfect. They make what is obviously a hard time on families a homecoming that families can be proud of,” said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.
The Old Guard is the only Army unit to conduct dignified transfers of every Army soldier killed in action in support of overseas contingency operations.