April 23rd, 2010
02:01 PM ET

CNN Reporter witnesses solemn 'ramp ceremony'

When you’re embedded with the military in a place like Afghanistan, you can spend a lot of time waiting.

And so it was last Thursday. We had been embedded with U.S. and Canadian forces inside Kandahar City for a week, and we were awaiting a military flight back to Kabul.

Our transport – a C-130 Hercules – was still two hours away from arriving, so we settled in at the rather basic “departure lounge” at the huge Kandahar Air Force base – known to the military as simply "KAF."

After 45 minutes or so, we noticed soldiers drifting from the waiting area to the outside gate, standing there, looking out.

I wandered over, curious about what was unfolding. A giant transport jet (I think it was a Galaxy C-5) was parked on the apron, with an MRAP armored vehicle parked nearby. Speakers and a podium were set up near the jet.

Soon, troops started to muster and then gather in formation. Commands were shouted, and, one by one, the units marched towards the plane, lining up near its yawning rear ramp. I could make out U.S., British, Australian, Canadian and Dutch uniforms, but I think there were others as well.

The soldiers kept coming, marching into position.  Soon there were several hundred, standing in formation and in silence, along with perhaps 50 civilians.

We were watching a "ramp ceremony," the return of a fallen soldier’s remains back home – in this case, a U.S. service member.

I still don’t know who it was or how he or she died, and neither did most of those standing at attention. They were here out of respect, solidarity with a comrade.

Ceremonies like this are held any time someone is killed in the theater of war, be it Afghanistan or Iraq, whether it’s one service member or many.

The aim is to have the remains of the fallen on the way home within 24 hours.

Attendance at these ceremonies is voluntary, and KAF, being a large and very multi-national base, attracted a large turnout of people, most of whom would not have known this casualty of war.

In nearly a dozen trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan, I’d never seen one in person before.

An American sergeant standing next to me said it was considered an honor to attend such occasions, no matter the nationality of the fallen.

“Soldiers coming off 16 hour shifts will put on their cleanest uniform and come,” he said. “We’ve had movie or music stars come here and they don’t get as big a turnout as one soldier going home in a coffin.”

An Army chaplain was speaking now. The wind blew across the tarmac and I couldn’t make out the sermon, although I caught the words "going home" and "sacrifice."  Then he recited "The Lord is my Shepherd."

The early afternoon sun beat down as the MRAP that had been parked off to the side fired up its engine and slowly drove over. It was then I could see the U.S. flag-draped casket sticking out the back, turning the giant armored vehicle into a hearse.

Eight soldiers lifted their fallen comrade off the vehicle, another soldier in the front and rear to begin the solemn march to the giant plane’s ramp.

Bagpipes played "Amazing Grace" as they made their way into the cavernous belly of the aircraft, the coffin its only cargo. As the ramp lifted, every soldier was saluting.

As the last of the plane’s giant doors clanked shut, "Taps" rang out.

The salutes lowered, commands were shouted, and several hundred soldiers marched to the edge of the tarmac, were dismissed.  They slowly made their way back to their jobs, or their bunks.

As the massive planes engines began to roar, our own C-130 began to taxi over, and we all began to gather our bags in silence.

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Filed under: Behind the Scenes • Kandahar • Troops
soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. Donah

    ´Sorry about the typos...I didn´t spell check.. GripeVine....//

    October 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Donah

    I am truly sorry about this all... Why shodl beautiful young bodies be sent home in coffins as no use to anyone anymore and I, Me at 90 minus a stroke or 2 still kick arond on Paner Earth telling almost everybody:- Hey you ... how come you louse up my world for me ???.. I did WW2 for ya.. and safed your goddam freedom and what do you do with it.... ?? Tou louse it up for everybody on this planet...... Now get in line and behave... for crying out loud.. GripeVine & Donah.... //

    October 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chief

    BTW The Governor of Iowa had the flags lowered to half staff for CSM Laborde..

    June 2, 2010 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Chief

    No this was for my CSM John K. Laborde, Passed away on 22 April. As the articles said above he was the organizer for the Ramp Ceremonies here at Kandahar. He missed not a one! He is missed here as well as back Home.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. AKubik

    Judging by the date of this piece, this very likely may have been my youngest cousin, KIA sometime between the night of 4-22 and early morning 4-23 in Afghanistan. Thanks for writing. His funeral was yesterday, Sgt Ronald A Kubik, Army, 75th Ranger, Delta Company. People lined the streets to salute the funeral procession, and cars on the road pulled over to the side to stop and wave or salute. Please God they are given what they need to finish the job and come home quick and safe.

    May 4, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    As a 3 time Afghanistan Campaign veteran, I have witnessed this multiple times. 32 coffins on my last deployment alone. It is an honor to render a final salute to my fallen brothers/sisters-at-arms. I am proud of my service and what we stand for. My only request is that people not look upon our fallen and think it a waste. Don't look at it as needless. Don't complain about it at all. Be thankful that a small number of men and women are willing to VOLUNTEER to stand up for your freedoms, safety, and way of life. Whether or not you agree with the reasons given, please don't dishonor our heroes. I have yet to stand in one of these ceremonies and not feel connected to our lost brothers. I'm about to head back over to Afghanistan soon. I ask for your prayers and support for myself as well as all of my military family. If I should return to my wife under a flag... thank her for the sacrifice. I'm doing what I love to do in serving this country, so it's not a sacrifice for me. God bless.

    April 28, 2010 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Donah

      David.... (don´t get me wrong) ... I am not proud of what we´re doing in Afghanistan, Pakistsan or before in Irak... I honestly am not.. (somebody else may but I certainly am not) ... When I joined up (privately) in WW2 .. I did because I thought it was the right thing to do:- just help get Hitler and his crowd/system... out of the way... There were hectic situations, yes.. but I got out.. survived.... – lucky me – Burt this is now.. and it´s apparently not about bringing democracy and freedom of religion (Christianity) and let´s all be friends...... but about something else I am no part of.. Nevertheless... Seeing these coffins go or come home gives me a big lump in the throat everytime... they´re not faminy.. they are not "friends".... they are just guys who joined up "because it was the right thing to do..... indoctrination !!.. and got "picked off" I am a sort of Olie North... with him I say:- Watch the Road, soldier... even IF.. you are nog driving.... Good luck to all of you.... at home .. and on the battlefields.. GripeVine & Donah....

      October 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Drue

    When I was stationed at Balad Air Base Iraq, I was a Chaplain Assistant and me and my Chaplain were involved in 86 ramp ceremonies in 16 months. It was an honor to serve the fallen and give them the proper honors that they deserve. I remember everyone vividly and can still see the people their, from the commanding general to the lowest private. Sometimes we only had a handful sometimes 100's. God Bless their families and everyone who has served.

    April 28, 2010 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. Deb Anderson

    This article is so touching, sad, and true of the military life. My husband is over in KAF. I am so proud of him, I pray everyday he will come home alive and be in my arms again.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joe Albano Sr.

    I wish our politicians would serve our nation as proudly as our soldiers, Sailers and Marines do!

    April 27, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. val

    I too have a son serving in Afghanistan and mourn this loss of another mother's child. Beautifully conveyed story of a tragic outcome of war and my deepest fear,

    April 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul Jorjorian

    In Canada, these ramp ceremonies are always televised on the nightly national news. Seems appropriate. But as one US vet said, "In America, the Army is at war but the rest of the country is at the Mall." Why is all this tragedy so invisible?

    April 27, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. WildBill

    Lt John H. Miller: "EarnThis. Earn it..."

    April 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MotherTrucker

    As a Veteran and Spouse of a Soldier, I have stood in silence on those ramps in Iraq. I have had the tear fall from my eye, and heard the often sniffel from fellow Soldiers, as another one of our Brothers or Sisters was sent home. I beleive that the reporter that was able to see 1st hand of this has gained a new prespective on our life. I thank you for sharing your story with us. To those that have no connection to a Service member, maybe you have shed light onto this. I know many do not support this war, But its the faith of this Nation that is in trusted in all of us and as Americans we should still support those in uniform. I thank you all for your support while I was in, for supporting my husband, my brother, my brother in law, all my Brothers and Sisters in all branches of service.

    April 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donah

      Thankx Mother Trucier... as a WW"2 vet I´ve never been part or have I witnessed the "homecming" of our brothers and sisters in uniform.. like that... except on CNN... and every time I get a big fat lump in my throat...:-It´s somebody coming home dead !! Does anybody understand what that means....?? GripeVine.. & Donah..//

      October 19, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Suzanne

    Whether we agree with the politics/policies of war or not, we as a free nation need to be thankful and mindful of those who give so selfishly that we may have this freedom. Young men and women give of themselves daily for our country to remain "the land of the free". God bless all who serve, from other freedom loving countries as well, that we do not wake up each day in a situation like 9/11; that our children and grandchildren can be tucked in each day not fearing bombs and devastation of our land is something we should be eternally grateful for. Thank you to all who have and do serve us...God bless you!

    April 27, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. Al Ryan

    This is a letter I wrote to the Hanscom AFB newspaper after witnessing a similar cermony. It was very moving
    ------------

    I had the distinct honor today to honor one of our fallen heroes. The remains of Specialist were brought home through Hanscom AFB this morning. It has become a somber tradition for base personnel to turn out and line the road from the Base Operations/Flight Line area to the gate. I was among hundreds of people who gathered on this crisp autumn morning to pay my respects to a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice and paid the price for our freedom.

    As the procession started by with motorcycle escorts from the Massachusetts State Police, local police departments and the civilian Patriot Guard, it served to underscore the importance of our efforts to support the warfighter and brought immediacy to the danger our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen face each day. The hearse, limousines, and many private vehicles carrying friends and family members served as a painful reminder that every casualty number seen in the news has an intense personal element to so many people.

    As we go about our everyday work on our contracts designed to protect our forces from harm, we would be well served to remember this day. When the office politics get us frustrated, we should remember those who stand “at the guard” defending our ability to rage against the system. When our flight runs an hour late or the rental car isn’t as nice as we would like, we should remember that Humvees and tanks and F-16s are the chariots that these brave men and women mount each day. When we’re forced to go in early or work late to meet a deadline or attend yet another conference call, we should remember our heroes, every one of them, who has left the security of home and family to protect the life and liberties that we love. We should remember…

    Finally, I’d like to salute the citizens of Hanscom AFB who made a simple effort to go stand by the side of the road to honor a young man who paid the ultimate price. Each individual’s contribution was small, but the sum of the parts became an incredible outpouring of honor and respect.

    My perspective and my life were changed today. It is my sincere hope that these words will make you stop and think about the incredible tasks our men and women in uniform carry out each day and that our actions as civilians and contractors honor their service and their sacrifice.

    April 27, 2010 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  16. dave

    Michael, thanks for the simplicity and honesty of this report. No sensationalizing, just telling us as it was. I am an ex UK serviceman, now involved in training the serving men and women of the US and Canada and this report touched me and reminded me of the military I knew; at the same time almost childish in the humor engaged to mask certain realities yet deeply emotional, caring and close....even to those one might not know, if they are in the 'brotherhood' of service. Your report accurately reflects simple men and women dealing with the reality of their way of life, which is anything but simple. For a brief moment they can drag their emotions out of the 'box' in which they keep them (a necessary defense against the demands of the job) and honor a fallen comrade. The moment is transitory, but none the less honest for that. Bare unity across unit, service, nation....the gritty reality behind the headlines, where you find the devastation of loss engulfing comrades, friends and family. The next moment, the assembled silent, respectful servicemen and women return to the daily grind as if naught had happened, duty done to an honored comrade. Thanks.

    April 27, 2010 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  17. BILL MORGAN

    In Canada, when the body is being transferred from Trenton air base to the coroners office in Toronto [2 hours away] for an autopsy, down the renamed "Highway of Hero's" the overpasses are crowded with fire trucks, people waving flags etc. A fitting farewell

    April 27, 2010 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  18. Angel Arnold

    To the folks that say –
    "It sucks that these kids are dying in a desolate land far from home. It sucks the DoD budget is more than ten times that of the DoE (education, not energy).
    I served as a soldier many years ago and spent two years in Germany. Although it was a peacetime mission, I wondered, "What are we doing over there?" I'm sure many of these kids in Iraq and Afghanistan ask the same question, but seldom out loud. There's is not to question why...
    Let's stop the need for ramp ceremonies. Let's just bring everyone home, alive.
    Posted by: Adam"
    HOW DARE YOU....if it were YOU or a loved one of yours would you not want them honored? Would you not want respect to be rendered prior to your journey home? Are yu one of the guys thats stands on the sides of the road and protest a military funeral? I buried my mother last year and she had a military funeral....the respect that was shown to her/ motorcade on the way to the cemetary AND in the cemetary itself was truly wonderful..these people did not know her or know anything about her or her service in the military for 20 years.
    I think it is awesome that this is done and that the soldiers and civiilians that are there no matter WHAT branch of service they serve decide to take part in this solemn ceremony.
    I hope and pray that when the good Lord decides to call you home...you have someone who ensures that you get the respect you deserve.

    April 27, 2010 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  19. sm

    This was a great article. I’ve witness one Fallen Warrior Ceremony while on my current deployment. The reason I’ve only gone to one was because it was just too hard. There were 3 flag draped caskets and it was too much, three people going home the wrong way. There was a good turnout just as I’m sure there is always a good turnout. I’m in Qatar and we receive an e-mail a day it seems like about these Ceremonies. I believe that if you were to get a chance to go to one, to witness one to stand at attention to salute the Airman, Sailor, Marine, and Soldier you should go and do it. It’s a great honor one I’ll always remember.

    -USAF

    April 27, 2010 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  20. A Marine

    My condolences to the families of the fallen. Freedom is not free. As a Iraq vet i understand the conflict we fight today against a hidden enemy it takes sacrifice and discipline that most do not understand. Thank you for this article. Semper Fi May the fallen rest peacefully in the kingdom of God

    April 27, 2010 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  21. Paul Adamowski

    ..Michael- thank you for an excellent piece of reporting.

    I don't think we had such a thing in Vietnam; at least I never was exposed to this ceremony. If we did not, then that was our loss as a nation. One of the comments was also poignant and true – it is called Honor and it exemplifies so very much what our serving young men and women demonstrate and practice so very well through their service. It is sad to realize what the ceremony is about but it does me proud to read that the "brothers in arms" in the armies represented there respect and feel the loss of life so very deeply. No one hates war more than a soldier and none but a soldier is better prepared to wage it if need be.
    Thank you again for an outstanding job.

    April 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Peter

    I echo the feelings of many of the comments. I served during the VietNam War. Although my duties did not require me to go to Nam, many of my squadmates did. I am glad to see that we (as a country, for the most part) understand the sacrifice that our service men and women give each day. I come from a family that has served in every conflict since the Civil War...I thank Michael for his story, and my my heart goes out along with my prayers to the family of CSM Laborde. May Jesus welcome him into heaven and say "Well done, my good and faithful servant".

    April 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  23. rick Blackburn

    Freedom unfortunately is anything but free. I wish more Americans really understood the real world and the horrors are service members fight to preserve our hard fought liberties.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  24. rick Blackburn

    Being in the U.S.Army for four years during the 1980's I witnessed a few of these type ceromony's. I really wish our institutions would honor our service memebers with the respect deserved more often as well. All americans owe these people for our freedoms. It was an honor to witness such touching human tributes. I always felt better about my humanity afterwards. The world is a much safer place because of the people fighting for the liberty we believe in. God bless them all.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Claire

    Four years ago, I retired from the Air Force. I can honestly say in my 22+ yrs of service, the most poignant tour of my career was in Afghanistan. I was only there, shy of six months and I witnessed three of these ceremonies. I stood at attention inside the aircraft and watched as they were solemnly brought on to the aircraft. Most were military, some were civilians. I stood alongside my team members and bowed my head as the Chaplain prayed over them. When the aircraft doors closed, my team and I fought back our emotions as we went about ensuring all were secure for their flight home. We did not personally know any of them and yet, we all felt as if we had lost a part of ourselves. I will forever, be proud to have served with those that have unselfishly given their lives and those that continue the honor of defending our great country. NEVER forget!

    April 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Sean

    I was at Fort Hood for the ramp ceremony back in Nov. 2009 for those murdered by Maj. Hasan. In fact I was there to provide video media support of the ceremony. Hundreds of Soldiers were in attendance, numerous civilians, much like the one depicted here. Very solemn. Very quiet. I wish that the footage had been granted release authority.

    April 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Proud Air Force Parent

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!

    April 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  28. DJ

    If you haven't seen the movie, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon, it's worth a look. It is based on a true story of a Marine officer who volunteered to escort the body of a young marine back to his home town...

    April 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  29. FD

    May each of us who have not been called to serve in our armed forces make our countries worth coming home to; worthy of being fought for. Let us never forget and never take for granted the sacrifices made -those who give their lives, are injured, or live on with the memories.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  30. CH (CPT) William Kneemiller

    Regarding this fallen warrior, the reporter did not have the name because all family members had to be notified before it was made public. It is appropriate to honor our Command SGT Major John K. Laborde who co-ordinated 127 of these RAMP ceremonies.
    He will be remembered and loved.

    –Chaplain William Kneemiller
    Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan

    April 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Ann

    Thank you for this powerful account. It is somehow comforting to a mother with a son currently serving in Afghanistan to know that honor is shown to our fallen soldiers on the far end of the world as the family awaits on this end. The respect shown for a life given in service unifies us albeit in grief.

    April 26, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Shannon

    I have a son serving in Afghanistan. This was one of the best articles I have read. Thank you!

    April 26, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  33. Citizen

    I wish we didi not have to have such cermonies.

    April 26, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  34. Adam

    It sucks that these kids are dying in a desolate land far from home. It sucks the DoD budget is more than ten times that of the DoE (education, not energy).

    I served as a soldier many years ago and spent two years in Germany. Although it was a peacetime mission, I wondered, "What are we doing over there?" I'm sure many of these kids in Iraq and Afghanistan ask the same question, but seldom out loud. There's is not to question why...

    Let's stop the need for ramp ceremonies. Let's just bring everyone home, alive.

    April 26, 2010 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  35. Robin Donald deVallon

    I know it´s a rotten feeling when you pay your last respect to the fallen dead but how does it feel when your busy killing someone else out there ?? I did WW2 and I survived.... Or did I.... In my mind I never survived altho I´m still alive....
    From the GripeVine.... & Donah..//

    April 26, 2010 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
  36. Robin Donald deVallon

    I don´t wanna be cynicle but the urge is there.... War is a terrible thing.... when will we end these "games" for profit.... Untill industry provides us with gainful employment ???
    From the GripeVine... & Donah..//

    April 26, 2010 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
  37. Steve

    Thanks for sharing your experience. No matter what the politics of the matter are, I'm glad that some people remember what's really important about all of this: the people. The people that sacrifice so much for their country and it's allies. My only hope is that everyone in this country could see experience what you did and see how it affects each and every servicemember.

    April 26, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  38. former army sof medic now active duty navy lcdr mc officer

    R.I.P. to the fallen, we honor you my fallen comrade.
    To the LT that is both ignorant and naive. Keep your eye on the ball and do your job! When you worry about who isn't doing what you lose sight of what we are fighting for which is freedom. Concentrate more on bringing your men and women home. If you are in a combat arms unit, that's exactly and the only thing you should focus on. You can moan the blues about societies unjustness and failures later, believe me. You can do this because of the men and women that have served and spilled blood before us for the price of our freedom. This has given Americans our right for free speach and to be able to serve in an all volunteer military if this is what we choose. Again keep your eye on the ball LT, we are at war!
    Again R.I.P. my fallen comrade, you have not died in vain. Godspeed and we will never forget your sacrifice for the freedom of this great nation.

    April 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  39. ekul

    Salut.

    April 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Gary Drake

    I too was an A1C...Many years ago... when we choose to serve-as these brave men and women have done we write a check to the CIC where the dollar amount is " our life". I am a fourth generation serviceman. Without people ready to serve our country it would not be what it is. The best country in the world.
    RIP to the fallen.

    April 25, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Jeremy

    They are called “Angel Flights” or “Halo Flights” and yes it is a privilege to be a part of one

    April 25, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Colonel B

    "Civilians ( i.e. Politicians) make wars ... the military fights wars." I think it should be a requirement for every member of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the President and Vice-President to attend at least one of these ceremonies. I do not believe they fully understand the commitment and dedication of these yourg men and women. We do not have a draft - they volunteered to serve; to defend our way of life, to provide that way of life for future generations - here and abroad. I wish I had the opportunity to attend everyone of those ceremonies.

    April 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Sandy Masterson

    My son, CPL Conor G. Masterson, was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 8, 2007. We received a video (that we treasure) of the ramp ceremony as he left his FOB but do not have any record of what happened between then and the day he arrived at a small airport near our home. Each time I read or hear of an account such as this, it touches my heart. I want to believe that others came forward to honor Conor as he made his final journey home. My thanks go out to each person that takes the time to pause and pay their respect during the ramp ceremonies. I can assure you, it means a lot to the families of our fallen.

    Thank you.

    April 25, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Deborah S

    With all the controversy back here in the states about the war, with funerals being picketed, I was very happy to hear that the fallen are honored by their peers before coming home. I think the families would like to know that their loved ones are honored and their sacrifice given the respect they deserve before returning home.

    April 25, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  45. dejah

    Thank you for that report. As a person with several family members serving not just there but elsewhere, it is good to know that these honors are rendered to our fallen. You have been where many of us cannot be - and you are where George W. Bush and the architects of this war never bothered to go. Thank you again.

    April 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Patty

    This story brought tears to my eyes as I too have a son serving in Afghanistan. The weekend that he arrived in Afghanistan he witnessed one of these ceremonies and called home with a great deal of emotion. His comments were that this is what made him realize that this war is real. My son will be home in 2 1/2 weeks after serving 7 months in this war. I will continue to pray for all of our troops and their families because I have witnessed the roller coaster of emotions that a family endures during this time.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  47. Bernie (Canada)

    Canada has different regulations regarding the publicizing of the deaths of our troops than the U.S.; I recall an episode a few years ago, when someone got in trouble for releasing a photo of several U.S. flag-draped coffins in the back of a Hercules, about to leave Baghdad. I believe the U.S. regulations have been relaxed somewhat since then.

    In Canada, literally all the ramp ceremonies for Canadian soldiers are shown, at least in part, on the national news television broadcast; the soldiers' repatriation ceremony (the ramp ceremony when they arrive home), and the passing of the hearse on the "Highway of Heroes" leading from the arrival base to the soldiers' home bases is shown the next day (again, in part, perhaps a two minute clip). Despite the sadness, and the impact of the number of young lives lost, I believe it best to show these tender moments, to continually remind us of the sacrifice, and the principles for which these young citizens gave their lives in countries far flung.

    Let us all remember, the greatest distinction of a democracy is the ability to transfer power without threat nor violence. These soldiers gave their lives so that others may experience the freedom that comes with the privilege to choose our own leaders, and the responsibility to protect all our rights. May God Bless them, and their families.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  48. SSG Jerry Giddens,USARMYRET

    I never saw a ramp ceremony or remember if we did them in Vietnam.But I remember the times we loaded our fallen comrades onto the evacuation helecopters for their last ride from the field. Even today it is a gut wrenching memory.I still tear up.Rest in peace Dear Brothers.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Corpsman father

    Everyone so try to see "Taking Chance", an HBO special featuring Kevin Bacon. This beautiful film describes the journey home of one of those killed in action. An escort accompanies the fallen all the way home and these ramp ceremonies are held on every leg of the this final journey.

    April 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Charles Wilson

    Mr. Holmes,
    Just so you know, the ramp ceremony you observed was that of CSM Labord

    April 25, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  51. Richard Stewart

    I was in Kandahar in early February 2002, while our joint presence was still new in that country, and had the honor of standing in just such a ceremony for one of the first Australian soldiers killed in action–now heading home in a coffin carried by his mates. All of us–American, Canadian, Australian, German, and other nations at that airport–were moved and humbled to be there to watch our brother in arms going home for the last time. More Americans should know of this sense of honor and shared sacrifice and how much they owe to all those soldiers of all those nations serving in the front lines of our continuing fight against terrorists.

    April 25, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  52. Infantry First Sergeant

    The post by James Roberts is a great example of the general lack of respect for the Soldiers, Sailers, Marines, and Airmen that this country has portrayed over the last half century. How dare you dishonor the loss of a military member, and how dare you use this forum to voice your personal agenda. As an American Fighting Man, I take great pride in the job that my men do every day, and no matter who he or she was, it hurts my heart to know we have lost another great patriot. Unfortunately, the patriots in our nation are far and few between. We fight and put our lives on the lines for a majority that cares not about any of us or of the freedoms that we provide. We fight and swear and bleed and some of us die for a nation that treats us with blatent disregard.

    April 25, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  53. T.M.

    It is nice to see a piece of journalism that simply staes his/her observations without any slant or agenda. It is very thought provoking and sincere. I'm glad a jounalist was able to witness a "Ramp Ceremony" and report on it without bias. A vast majority of our troops do what they do because they feel they have a duty to protect our freedoms and way of life.

    These military members who have given their lives for this cause cannot be honored enough. They shall not be forgotton.

    Mr. J. Roberts: Although I respect your right of "Freedom of Speech", your comments are off-topic, and frankly inappropriate for this story. I'm sure there are many other outlets for you to voice your opinions. Just remember all the folks who have given their lives for last 200+ years to give you that right.

    We honor our fallen soldiers because they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. You don't have to thank a soldier for doing his/her duty, thank their friends and family for supporting them.

    A Chief in the Gulf

    April 25, 2010 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  54. LCDR, US Navy

    Great article. Currently deployed to "KAF" and have been to several ramp ceremonies here – one just like you have described last week. Was in the airport waiting to go to Kabul and a fallen Canadian hero was sent respectfully home. Wrote a poem about the ramp ceremony inspird by a late night/early am on the tarmac. TAPS will resound with great poignancy after the connection it has made from these events. My thoughts are always with the families whose grief must be unbearable as 1/2 way around the world, a large, international community of comrades, ceremoniously and with great dignity, marks the life of a hero. It is some world we live in. Peace to all.

    April 25, 2010 at 4:19 am | Report abuse |
  55. Soldier of the Fallen

    My dear CSM planned and attended several of these since we've been here, how amazing it is for his own to be captured in such honor. 22 APR 2010 forever remembered.

    April 25, 2010 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  56. Elizabeth

    I am a civilain working in Kuwait. I have been here 7 years. I have eaten many lunches in the DFAC with these service members. You can tell the ones heading North and the ones going home. There have been many days when I start off eating alone only to end up being surronded by soldiers on the trip home. And the only thing they were interested in was speaking to someone who was not in the service. Spending some time with someone that reminds them of home.

    I have never attended a ramp ceremony but having eaten with these men and women have been an honor every day.

    April 25, 2010 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
  57. Ted

    As I write this in Kabul, I want to not only praise Michael's reporting, but also his writing. Full disclosure: I know Michael from my time at CNN. What makes this so powerful is the absence of gratuitous emotion. Note the lack of overwrought adjectives and adverbs. Michael just tells the story in a stark style that is eloquent in its economy of words. It's the kind of writing that is out of favor in many newsrooms and anathema to many bloggers. If more journalists would just tell the story and leave out their self-important verbiage, hidden agendas and sloppy language, maybe news providers could start to regain the level of respect they once held.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  58. RIP

    The ramp ceremony that this reporter whitnessed that Thursday was actually for a fallen soldier who was in charge of ramp ceremonies done here on KAF. It's ironic that the reporter captured the essence and importance of the ceremony, for one who put his heart into each one prior to his own.

    April 25, 2010 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  59. Unknown

    I was at that Ramp Ceremony

    April 24, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  60. former civilian employee

    As a former civilian employee of the Alaska National Guard, I have attended more than one ramp ceremony. I knew what they were and many times, at various bases, have taken time from other duties and days off to attend.

    Now I try to attend the final service for those who make their final trip home, both US and Canadian.

    And Mr. James Roberts, remember one thing, these individuals and others who have died in the service of this country and our allies have done so to give you the ability to make comments like you posted.

    Thanks to all who serve, those who gave their all, and the familes of all those individuals-serving.

    Amd thank you to the veterans who have served.

    I salute you all..

    April 24, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  61. cathy l holm

    Oh–Thank you so much. This just drives saddness into my heart and recommits my prayers to those who serve. God Bless the sacrifice and dedication all these warriors have to each other and the care in which they dedicate honor to the fallen. Thank you for this account...it rsupports my faith in our military and their loyalty to each other. I pray for them all!
    As Always, cathy (Proud Marine Corps MOM)

    April 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  62. john

    Their is no bond stronger than that of soldiers in combat. They become true brothers and sisters for eternity and as such this practice must endure thru time,

    April 24, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  63. Military wife

    My husband is a Chaplain with the Army National Guard currently serving at KAF and has had to conduct a couple of these ceremonies. I pray that the sacrifices made by these brave men and women are never forgotten. May God bless and protect all of the troops and their families.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  64. Howard2

    This is something that most civilians will never understand, in combat you really do become a "band of brothers" and these ceremonies are just that, a salute to a lost brother.

    April 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Soldier in Afghanistan

    Ironic is this particular ramp ceremony was in honor of our CSM.....he was Soldier who had always conducted the ramp ceremonies for the Fallon Warriors over the last nine months and his own ceremony was noticed and written about. God Bless!

    April 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  66. US Army

    While in Iraq I was part of the detail that would conduct the "Ramp Ceremony" on our FOB.
    It still is stuck in my head today, I got the chance to be part of eight such cermonies as well as be in formation for another five and as hard as it was then and still today I would not trade it ever. We had lines that would form from 400 to one time over 1000 to pay respects. It did nto matter what we were doing, how hot it was, nobody made anybody go it was just announced that at this time on the airfield a formation would be happening and we all knew and did our thing. I will never forget it and am glad I was able to get my fellow brothers and sisters home with respect.

    April 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Abdal-Latif

    What a waste. People willingly throwing their own sons on the bonfire, thinking that they died for freedom. They died for nothing, nothing other than the imperialistic oppression of another country. The saddest thing is that many of these soldiers were from poor families and had no other decent options in life. Now, Bush Lite is escalating the Afghan war in order to prove that he's NOT a liberal. Wake up, Obama: the Right considers you a socialist anyway, and they always will, so just cancel this pointless war. A stupid undertaking will not somehow be made smart by extending its duration and increasing its intensity. Your predecessor made a huge mistake based on testosterone rather than brains. End this. Even for those of you who don't value Afghans' lives (unless, perhaps, they convert to Christianity), at least you can agree that "American lives" have value, right? After all, God loves our country more–that's why Americans say "God bless America"–a Protestant Christian twist on the old Jewish idea that God plays favorites among nations.

    April 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Colin Higgins

    I was an airline pilot for several years in the mid-2000s and personally saw two of these incidents take place on the ramp.

    The most memorable was when I was heading to work on a full Delta flight and had to ride in the cockpit to Louisville, KY one afternoon and upon arriving; went downstairs to get my overnight bag and flight kit from the ramp. When I got downstairs all the ramp workers were standing near the right side cargo door of this MD88 and two forklifts were suspending a big American just behind the aircraft. A large detail of personnel from the Kentucky Air Guard had assembled and there were many Louisville Police officials and the airport fire department in attendance. I watched from just in front of the wing as the honor guard in dress uniform took the coffin from the cargo hold and placed it into a waiting hearse. This was in May of 2006. I took the uniform hat off of my head and held it over my heart- only thing I could really do.

    Although we weren't military service members all of us civilian airline workers did our part to honor this fallen service member by taking a few moments in silence and reverence to pay respect for this life lost-

    April 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Archimede Ziviello Jr

    I'm 73 years old an in my youth I served in the AF when times were safer for our service men an woman. The service for me then was a prowed time of my life an to day when I think an see the men an women serving makes me want to return to my happer days of serving an serve aliong side them. I'm so proud to say I did what I could when I did for my country. You have no better horner in one's self an proud to say I SERVED my country an I give prayer an thank's to thoes who gave of them selves the altamet price for us all. NEVER FOR GET THEM.

    AZ.

    April 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  70. Air Force Captain

    I was in that ceremony, standing near the aircraft. As I have over 5 months left on this tour it will not be the last I attend. It is out of duty and respect that we provide our fallen with such an honor. They've paid the ultimate price and sacraficed all they had in hopes that those who continue will face a better tomorrow.

    April 24, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  71. cindy

    Thank you for this post. it is a nice reminder for those of us who have loved ones in harms way. You think of those serving overseas as only one among many but this reminds us that the many form one.

    April 24, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  72. judy wade

    My grandson is a Marine in Afghanistan. The ceremony left me with such a pain in my heart for the family and the fallen hero. I call them all heroes because every military person who serves in any of these wars is truly a hero. Our grandson's truck was in an explosion from an IED. Thankfully he was spared his life as well as his 'buddy'. But there have been others less fortunate. We are continuing our prayers for all our troops for their safe return home. I am confident the military guardian angel was hovering over our grandson. Be proud of our troops and pray faithfully for them daily.

    April 24, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  73. sky soldier dad

    Thank you Michael for writing this piece.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  74. james roberts

    Loss of life is tragic; regardless of age, nationality, relegion, ethnic group, soldiers, contractors, civilians.

    Wars happen dispite everyone's' best interest to avoid. I hate wars, I hate regieme changes, unilateral invasion of sovereign country more.

    With private companies (not armed servce/military) contracted for support services,
    for- hire, I don't see an end to the current conflicts. War is profit and provides gainful employment.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  75. Proud Canadian

    As a proud Canadian, I have had many opportunitys to attend home coming ramp ceremonies in Canada. To see the familys of our fallen men and women grieve their and our loss. It is the least we can do to support these familys and our military for our freedom.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  76. Bob

    It's called Honor...

    April 24, 2010 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  77. RET AF

    May what ever God you choose to pray to grace and bless each and every one of the young men and women that serve this great country. They deserve every honor we can place on them. The ramp ceremony is time honored tradition that I hope will never fade away. A show of deep respect for a fallen comrade who will probably not get the same show of respect when he arrives home by those that he/she served so well. I agree with the original post here that Arlington is the most sacred ground in this country. I have visited many times and have always paid my respects at the Tomb of the Unknown. If you don't feel a tug at your heart and a tear welling in your eye when you spend time walking those grounds, you have no heart and deserve no freedoms.

    April 24, 2010 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  78. A1C Air Force

    With all due respect sir, i earn my freedom like you but my parents whom raised me and work very hard are just not forunate enough to be rich. I am only a A1C stationed overseas and make more then my parents. To say bankruptcy is there fault is not right. I agree some people dont try but some things you cant help. Bankruptcy and obesity are some of those things sir. Have a great day

    April 24, 2010 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  79. jim spath

    Amen to that Army LT. Most people have not a clue about what it takes! God bless ypu and all the troops doing their jobs.

    April 24, 2010 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  80. Bob

    I participated in a ramp ceremony and was actually on a C-130 bring home four of service member kill in action in Iraq, itwas one of the greatest privileges I have had in my life.

    The post my the Army Lieutenant is so true, American have it so good and it because of nations armed forces and those few we call veterans.

    April 24, 2010 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
  81. Army Lieutenant

    What are the American people doing with the freedoms that come at so costly a price? The gifts from the greatest generation have been squandered. Bankruptcy, obesity, and consumer frenzy – is this the best baby boomers have to offer? Replace the bumper sticker that reads "bring the troops home" with one that says "earn your freedom."

    April 24, 2010 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  82. Fozzy

    As a father of a lost son, I can tell you that it has been and probably will forever be the military and those who have worn the uniforms who have remained with us in thought and via personal contact. These ceremonies are carried out from when these fine men and women are lost all the way home and to their front doors. I wish all those in harms way a speedy and safe return to their homes and families.

    April 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  83. Angelia ( Knottie)

    I've known about ramp ceremonies for a long time. I have,being a civilian, never attended one. And to be honest other than vaguely knowing it was an Honor to our fallen I never thught about exactly what happens and who attends them. I know now how my son was honored before he came home. I have always known he was never alone and that his brothers honored him but I honestly find comfort in your article. Thank you

    April 23, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  84. ea

    I have a brother and a few friends in war zones right now. Thank you.

    April 23, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  85. jim atmadison

    My utmost respects to this soldier who gave his or her life in service to our great country, and deepest condolences to his or her family.

    I've criticized civilian decisions on how we got into these wars and how the wars have been executed, but the men and women serving on the ground in our name are doing what they see to be the right thing for the right reasons. One terrible lesson of Viet Nam was that we can not lay our concerns about the civilian decisions on the military people that are carrying out those decisions.

    I lost a friend who whose vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq. He had anxiously awaited his reserve callup orders because he wanted to get over there and carry out his duty. I didn't tell him that I didn't want him to go and that I thought it was the wrong war for us to be in, because he didn't need to hear that from me. I cried when I saw him in the coffin. I cried when I tried to talk to his wife. It's good to know that his fellow soldiers treated his sacrifice with the respect he deserved.

    April 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  86. Armand Minuti

    Shephard is correct.

    April 23, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  87. Mark Herr

    I too have a son in Afghanistan. From the news reports describing the travels of the fallen Marines from his unit, the ceremony described by Michael Holmes is only the start of a solemn journey that will be witnessed by many Americans lining the roads and highways to pay their respects to our heroes as they return home .

    April 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  88. Pat Pendleton

    As the mother of a Sgt. stationed in Afganistan this story made me cry.

    April 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christian

      Me too Ms. Pendleton, me too. And I am a hard old bird. Have a daughter and grandson in Afg. They had 3 Hero Ramp Ceremonies last week. Lost 9 Marines in S. Afg. last week. God be with their families. All teh best for you and your son.

      November 11, 2010 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  89. mark warren

    The chaplain recited the 23rd Psalm, which begins with "The Lord is my Shepard".

    April 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  90. Carole Clarke

    My Dad spent 34 years in the Army and we witnessed many such ceremonies. On our way home from several years stationed in Germany, we got off a train in Leghorn, Italy and went down to the dock where the MATS ship was moored. But first Dad had us stop at an empty hangar where four flag-draped coffins waited. We too blended in with those performing the ceremony and listened intently to the Chaplain then one by one those coffins were hoisted up onto the deck and lowered into the forward hold. They were going home with us. It was a great honor to be present then. Both parents are buried at Arlington (Holy Ground) and I have seen the Changing of the Guard in front of The Tomb several times. I have also witnessed the farewell ceremony for one of the Guards where he lay a red rose before each of the tombs. No matter what time of day or night, no matter the weather, they are always there. If I have a religion, it is in this open Cathedral and The Tomb is the central altar.

    April 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |