An SF Brother Comes Home

Here is a video of one of the enoute Dignified Transfers of the remains of Special Forces Warrant Officer Shawn Thomas of 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. WO1 Thomas fell not in combat with an armed enemy, but in a motor vehicle accident in Niger, Africa, during a routine joint combined training/exercise deployment. That doesn’t make him any less dead, nor does it alter the grief of his wife, his friends and teammates, and, even, the crew and passengers of the plane that transported his remains.

We in the SF community are grateful to the aircrew, airline, and especially the passengers who showed such great respect, despite being inconvenienced.

Freedom isn’t free. In our eight or nine years of peacetime active duty, our Special Forces group lost men to electrocution, parachute mishaps, a Fulton STAR mishap, a skiing mishap, and even to entanglement in brush while crossing a stream swollen with snowmelt runoff. And, yes, motor vehicle accidents.  After going into the Reserves and Guard, we we less connected to the other battalions and companies in our Group, but we’d get word of fatal and serious accidents from time to time.

You can’t train for combat without some risky activities. And you can’t conduct risky activity indefinitely without rolling snake eyes some time.

In cases like this, where fallen service members are transported on commercial aircraft, it’s customary for the cockpit crew to hold the doors on the aircraft (with the exception of allowing an escort to debark) to allow the casket to be transferred with suitable dignity. As you can see in the video, the pallbearers — often from the decedent’s unit, and sometimes volunteers — and the mortuary personnel have a procedure for this and execute it with the maximum dignity to the memory of the fallen man, and the minimum inconvenience to other travelers.

Very occasionally, someone gets mouthy or disrespectful on the plane. You can’t eliminate a certain percentage of humanity being jerks. But it doesn’t happen much, because, after all, they’re already segregated — most of Hollywood and Congress flies by private jet.

7 thoughts on “An SF Brother Comes Home

  1. James F..

    Hognose, in 2005 you had a post called ON SERVING IN PEACE AND WAR on the now defunct Hoglog.

    It was about peacetime deaths and injuries, including what happened to Rich C. In September 2001.

    I think it’s worth reposting, and I have an archive.org link, but I’m asking if it’s okay with you–I don’t know why you abandoned the Hoglog thing. (No link in nick, for a change.)

    Reply
    1. Hognose Post author

      James, I think what happened was that the application I used for it went paws up (the whole company did). Feel free to share the link. “Hognose from SF” is only hard to track down for anyone who doesn’t try too hard.

      Reply
      1. James F.

        Here it is, written by Hognose in 2005:

        On Serving in Peace and War , Hoglog.com [Archive.org Link], August 24, 2005
        For me, the war begins September 8th, because of events on the 8th and 9th.

        Most of my military service was in peacetime. When I was a fit young tiger, the call didn’t come. But it was on my watch that the Iranian hostage mission went off (I was in Monterey, California, at the Defense Language Institute). When Grenada was taken down, I was in Phase II, Light Weapons, of the Special Forces qualification course. One of my classmates, who had been at 2nd Ranger Battalion before coming to SF, went to visit his Ranger replacement in Womack Army Hospital the day before the wounded man succumbed. It didn’t do his head any good, that’s for sure.

        The only guy in my own Ranger class from my original hometown, Philip Grenier of Worcester, Mass., was killed in a helicopter midair on that operation. Military operations involve humans, stress, and machinery, and so are practically begging for accidents.

        Most Americans never knew we fought a war in El Salvador. There wasn’t much fighting for our guys, compared to what the El Sals had to do on their own, but Greg Fronius was killed by mortar fire one hectic night. I met him a few times in the Q, and guys I knew vouched for him, which is a big thing. Your reputation starts on the first day (or for a guy like me who was on a SOTA at a Group already, it starts before that — the day you sign in). Greg’s reputation was good when I met him, before anyone knew he’d die on a fire-swept parade ground to help a bunch of foreigners live free.

        I didn’t lose any friends when the blight of Noriega was lifted from Panama, but I didn’t participate, either (I was in a unit that specialized in the Arctic). At the time of Desert Storm, I was still in an Arctic-oriented unit, a Reserve unit, and we did go to Norway, and skied up and down the Dovrefjell, and came back windburned and cranky to a bus with three-foot-high-lettering, “Welcome Home, Desert Storm Heroes.” Not an ego booster, that.

        It wasn’t until Afghanistan that my nation’s war was my, personal, war. But my war got started the weekend before, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’ll explain if you read more.

        The thing that put me in mind of all this was this post at the Powerline blog. John Hinderaker (rhymes with cinder rocker) notes that the US had a higher casualty rate in peacetime for the years for which he has numbers (83-96) than in Iraq.

        The media’s breathless tabulation of casualties in Iraq–now, over 1,800 deaths–is generally devoid of context. Here’s some context: between 1983 and 1996, 18,006 American military personnel died accidentally in the service of their country. That death rate of 1,286 per year exceeds the rate of combat deaths in Iraq by a ratio of nearly two to one.

        That’s right: all through the years when hardly anyone was paying attention, soldiers, sailors and Marines were dying in accidents, training and otherwise, at nearly twice the rate of combat deaths in Iraq from the start of the war in 2003 to the present. Somehow, though, when there was no political hay to be made, I don’t recall any great outcry, or gleeful reporting, or erecting of crosses in the President’s home town.

        He’s off in one trifling detail, which is that the 18,006 were for worldwide operations, and while the press usually throws the Afghan and, for example, Phillipines casualties in with the Iraq ones, they’re not counting all the GIs that manage to whack themselves in traditional GI ways, drinking and driving or exploring the corners of a Japanese superbike’s performance envelope. Still, the man has a point. All we hear from the self-proclaimed peddlers of history’s first draft with reference to Iraq and Afghanistan are stories about US casualties, denuded of context. Sometimes these losses are gleefully reported, as when Ted Koppel periodically reads the names of the dead, clearly enjoying each one. And like most long-serving soldiers, I’ve lost more people when the war wasn’t on. The most shocking and unwelcome news was of an event on September 8, 2001, an event that almost none of you have heard of, but that affected a family as powerfully as some of the bad news from the stans has done.
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  2. Keith

    Thanks for that look back. It was before I found this excellent site.

    I spent a fantastic year and half on a local construction site 2006-7. I worked in the trailer and it was a real growth experience. However not for everybody. The company was having upgrades constructed however the coal fired plant continued to operate and vent gasses through the existing structure. A contractor was working on parts of the system 100 feet up. One member stepped back wards for a reason I never learned. The safety fence gave way and he fell into a metal scrap bin on the construction site that was full of metal trash. Needless to say DRT.

    I had to make visual checks of parts of our part of the project. Among the equipment we had were these fascinating Volvo off road trucks. They were gimbaled between the cap and the bed. They weighed 20 tons and could carry a 20 ton dry load. When one went by you felt the ground shake. You can believe I was head on a swivel on my walks.

    Keep your powder dry, your eyes on the ball whatever you are doing and your faith in God.

    Reply

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