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The Battlefield Cross

Aug 18, 2011 Issues: Veterans

Tonight, I watched as time stood still. Battle hardened men and women wept. Tears of sadness. Tears of anger. Tears of pain. I watched as three pairs of boots stood in flawless formation on a land far from home. Dusty, still, yet no soldiers stood to fill them. Three helmets atop three rifles inverted upon their bayonets, representing each branch of service that lost a service member — Army, Navy, Air Force. Dog tags hung motionless, occasionally swaying in the gentle breeze that blew across the tarmac as if to remind us that these heroes will never be forgotten. In the background, airplanes could be heard taking off. The mission continued. The Battlefield Crosses stood to memorialize the ultimate sacrifice paid by our fallen soldiers.

These are America’s heroes. Hailing from small town USA, perhaps the family farm, a suburban town, or that inner-city neighborhood. They have yet to know a life outside of our nation’s uniform. These young troops chose to serve, went where they were told, performed missions in faraway places most have never heard of, let alone will ever see. It is these men and women who chose to put themselves in harm’s way, who chose to go headfirst into battle so that others may sleep peacefully in their beds knowing that we are safe. These are America’s heroes.

We prayed. We remembered. And we resolved. I had just arrived in the Middle East when news of an American helicopter shot down spread through our group. We knew U.S. troops had been killed, but how many? Who? How? The next day, as we received more detail, I knew our country had suffered a horrific loss, a tragedy. As we set out for their battlefield memorial, I knew I did not know these troops who had fallen. But I know of their sacrifice. I know of their courage. And I know I will carry this moment with me forever as a grave reminder of gracious respect for those who serve and those who sacrifice.

A total of 40 were honored tonight, including 38 from the devastating helicopter attack and two killed in separate incidents. All died fighting a hero’s fight. We do not yet know the full story, but these warriors were part of a rapid response team sent to assist their comrades pinned down by enemy gunfire. It was a fierce firefight. Yet, these troops rushed into battle to save their fellow soldiers, a true testament to their bravery. They died courageously as people of honor, died fighting to protect the ones they loved and the ones they would never know. They died for our country. Come tomorrow, their comrades will carry on, because that is what they do, no matter how hard or how high the cost. As they carry on, they immortalize the sacrifice of their fallen brothers.

Forty flag-draped caskets, including those of our Afghan compatriots, were placed carefully in the hangar on an air base in Afghanistan, a hangar that no doubt many of these fallen warriors had seen before. This time was different. This time would be their final trip home. These soldiers, sailors, and airmen made their last journey across the ramp, carried by their brothers in arms who will fight on in their wake. They left on two C-17s under the light of a half moon. These brave soldiers, these sailors, these airmen, these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of a grateful nation. May they rest in peace knowing the world is a safer, better place because of their sacrifice. These are America’s heroes.

Godspeed.

— Rep. Jeff Miller is in Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation and attended a battlefield memorial for the troops killed this weekend when their Chinook helicopter was attacked in Afghanistan.