9 pm, Saturday night; I was coming home from coffee with Mick. When we came up to Disney Rd, the main stretch on Bagram, it was lined with people, most standing at parade rest; no laughing or smoking, no cars or trucks on the road, nothing but silence and people, waiting. This is the Fallen Comrade ceremony on FOB Bagram.
I’d tried to avoid this as long as I could, but there’s just no way to walk away once we’d come upon it. I took my place in line at parade rest: feet shoulder- width apart, hands clasped behind my back, shoulders straight and head up, expressionless face.
What happens is this: at some point throughout the day, the Giant Voice will announce, "There will be a Fallen Comrade ceremony at 2100 on Disney Road. All available personnel are required to attend. Picture taking and PT uniforms are not authorized." This announcement will be repeated throughout the day, and again right before the ceremony.
The ceremony itself is simple: everyone who can be there lines up on Disney Road, at parade rest. The bodies of the dead (Coalition soldiers, DoD civilians, contractors, ISAF) are slowly driven from one end of the base, where they would have entered, down Disney Road to the PAX terminal, where they will be flown home. The bodies are escorted by squadron members, team members, unit representation- whoever can be there. As the vehicles pass, military snaps to attention and salutes; civilians go to attention and lay hands over hearts.
Most all of the dead in Afghanistan come through Bagram to be sent home; arriving here in the middle of the Spring Thaw hasn’t been easy, and now with Kandahar heating up again: it’s all too ugly. There are far, far too many of these ceremonies going on.
I stood on the side of the road, seeing/ unseeing, thinking about my brother Lucas, of course, and hoping for better days. I had wished the activity of this place would keep me too busy to worry too much, but of course it’s exactly the opposite.
(L- Keep your head down, kid. I’ll see you soon.)