To be a part of lives lost

By Samantha Prang

I didn’t really know what to expect when I deployed to Afghanistan. It was something that was completely out of my comfort zone. I knew it was a possibility when I enlisted. We had been in this war for over 10 years and the site of us leaving wasn’t in the picture at the time. The day I left I knew I would have to overcome a lot of anxiety and nerves, but I had no choice, so I hopped on the plane and left the old Sam behind.

I grew up reading about the war on terrorism, learning about it in school and seeing it on the news, but it was a totally different experience when I stepped off that plane. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am here.” Everything became much more real.

After I settled into a routine, things began to improve. I was learning a lot. One of the things I never thought I would do is be a pallbearer. We would have to practice once a month and it was a nice chance to get outside and do something different—until the day I walked into work and I discovered that my team would have to participate in a dignified transfer.

For those of you who don’t know, a dignified transfer is the last ceremony before a fallen soldier or civilian is transferred back to the United States.  Everything became very real at that moment. My company’s first sergeant was out there with us for three hours making sure we did our job perfectly. I couldn’t believe we actually had to do this. I never imagined I would. It was an experience I will never forget.

That next morning I woke up before the sun rose. Dressed in a new uniform, I headed to the office to meet with everyone. As we walked over to the ceremony location, I could feel the nerves. I felt like my heart was going to fall out of my chest. When we reached the plane, the master sergeant in charge came over and said we had nothing to worry about, and that this was just how we rehearsed it.  We stood off to the side as the attendees began to arrive.  When the ceremony started, I felt my heart starting to pound even harder and I could feel my hands getting all clammy.

We marched up to the truck, and began to pull the casket off. We then rotated in a circle until I was in the back. We started to march towards the opening of the plane. I could see out of the corner of my eyes guests with tears in their eyes. All I kept doing was biting the inside of my mouth so that I would keep focused and not miss a step. I had to keep that focus so I wouldn't cry. Once on the aircraft, we turned towards the center and gently placed the casket on the ground. We stood back to the position of attention and saluted. As I marched off the plane, I kept thinking about how I was a part of this man’s last journey home.

I was honored.

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