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With Biden Looking On, The Remains Of 13 Service Members Killed In Kabul Return Home

President Joe Biden watches as a Navy carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, at Dover Air Force Base, Del.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Joe Biden watches as a Navy carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

With American flags draped over caskets, President Biden watched Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the remains of 13 U.S. service members killed in the attack on the Kabul airport this past week were returned to their families.

The process, known as a "dignified transfer," was a particularly somber occasion, as it came just two days before the president's Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

Sunday's ceremony marked the first time as president that Biden had traveled to Dover to witness the return of fallen U.S. service members.

The families of 11 of those killed Thursday in the ISIS-K suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport allowed news media to document the event. The remains of two other service members were transferred out of public view at the request of their families.

The solemn movement of the dignified transfer began when an officer called out "wheels rolling," meaning that the families of the slain service members were on their way. Soon after, the officer called "family in sight" as a bus carrying the families arrived for the service.

Families quietly filed out of the vehicle before moving on to a sitting area.

President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley then emerged from behind the transfer vehicles and followed a military "carry team" up the back of a C-17 aircraft, which had flown from Ramstein Base in Germany with the fallen service members.

Biden later emerged from the back of the C-17 and got in line in front of the other distinguished visitors. An officer called out "present" – and then another called out "present arms."

Biden, the first lady and Austin then put their hands over their hearts and Milley stood at attention as an Army carry team delicately walked down the first transfer case off the back of the C-17.

Marine carry teams followed — using the same movements and procedures — with nine transfers. A woman's cries could be heard as the first fallen Marine was delicately walked the 30 yards from the C-17 to an awaiting vehicle.

A Navy carry team carried the final transfer case.

Each of the carry teams wore white gloves as they silently made their way from the plane to the transfer vehicles.

The 11 service members whose transfers were allowed by families to be covered by the media were:

  • Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee
  • Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Neb.
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
  • Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.
  • The remaining two service members whose remains were transferred Sunday were Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif. and Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.
    Dave Mistich
    Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.