Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Escort duty, military style

I first read Christie Blatchford's Fifteen Days in spring 2008, and I was so moved by it that I had to own a copy for myself and then harass encourage everyone I know to read it too. 

It offered a behind-the-scenes and outside-the-wire look at a Canadian Armed Forces deployment in Afghanistan
and it certainly opened my eyes to some of the events that take place when one of our soldiers is KIA.


For example, following one soldier’s death, another soldier volunteered for escort duty and later described how he recalled the sound of the melted ice moving in the casket each time their vehicle came to a start or a stop.

I don’t know why, but this detail fascinated me.


It makes perfect sense that the bodies would be packed with bags of ice before their long trip home from overseas, but it never occurred to me that the ice would melt along the way. Or that it could be heard with every turn of the hearse.


Such a small detail, and yet it’s interesting that this is one of the things the escort remembered from his service.


HBO recently released Taking Chance, which is based on the real-life events of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a marine who volunteered to escort home the remains of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps after he was KIA in Iraq.

From the ramp ceremony overseas to the preparation of the body at Dover Air Force Base, it is a sombre and deeply moving account of the entire process required to bring these soldiers home.


Like with Fifteen Days, the scenes in Taking Chance reveal details that many of us would ordinarily never actualize, but that’s precisely what makes this film so special. It makes us aware of how real death is and of how many people have to face it each time another soldier is lost.


In researching this topic, I stumbled upon a blog entry by a Vietnam war veteran who also volunteered for escort duty. His account is no less interesting, and it’s certainly worth the read: 

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