Ramp Ceremony


Emails from Sutrut’s brother:

Nothing was worse than, though, than going out to a FOB two days after an American and Canadian were killed the same night—on a god-forsaken hill in a god-forsaken corner of this place, and while we were there, the boys on the ground had a memorial. Now, this place is manned by an ODA, and about 12 national guardsmen, and there was a platoon of Canadians there as a QRF. They had flown out in the middle of the night to reinforce, and had never even met the US soldier who was killed. Since this was in the middle of Indian country, a lot of guys were still pulling security but maybe 25 guys were there. After the chaplain said a few words, everyone who was on the FOB that night came up and paid respects to the helmet on the upturned M-16, with his boots, and dog tags hanging from his rifle.I was alright until the Canadian platoon commander came up saluted (they do that british thing where they raise their left leg and stomp when they salute), dropped to his knees, prayed for a moment, looked at his dog tags for a moment, then ripped off his Canada flag patch and placed it next to the forever empty boots. He then stood and rendered the salute again. The rest of Canadians followed suit. Slowly. One at a time. Each one.

I saw some of Pte Woodfield’s tarmac ceremony. The Americans call them ramp ceremonies. The Canadian soldiers  marched out of the dilapidated corrugated steel hangar, bear headed, swinging their arms just like a WWII newsreel, coming into the bright sunshine and on to the the concrete aircraft parking ramp. Their Sergeant Major bellowed commands most Americans don’t understand, and the battalion came to rest drawn up in two lines starting at the ramp of the dark gray Canadian C-130. Their’s are darker than ours, with a black maple leaf on the tail. The Canadian Colonel and the padre and some VIP from Ottawa were at at the bottom of the ramp. Words were said, but most were drowned out by C-17’s or Ilyushins or Chinooks. Can’t shut the runway down for memorial services. When the oratory concluded a Bison with a big Red Cross on the side backed up between the two lines of troops and stopped about 25 feet from the aircraft. The Bison dropped its ramp and Pte. Woodfield’s coffin was slowly and precisely carried up into the aircraft. After what seemed like a very long time the Colonel and the padre and the VIP and the detail came back out, the Sergeant Major bellowed, and the two lines reformed into a battalion formation. The C-130 raised its ramp and cranked up its inboard engines and slowly pulled away. Some wept. Others fixed their eyes on the head of the soldier in front of them. Many studied the ugly brown mountain that dominates the northern skyline. The C-130 cranked up its outboard engines and got out on the taxiway. A green Ford Ranger with a flashing Follow Me sign  led it at good speed to the northeast. The troops  lose sight of it behind the Main Fire Station. When it comes back it is surprisingly high, moving fast. The Sergeant Major bellowed again, the troops salute, and the C-130 roars on past, in a hurry to get to Camp Mirage.

I hate ramp ceremonies.


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