Mullen meets families of five slain servicemembers at Dover arrival
By KEVIN BARON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2009
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the senior member of the U.S. military, traveled from Washington unannounced Wednesday night to join family members gathered to witness the return of the five U.S. troops slain in Monday’s rampage at a mental health clinic in Iraq.
In a chill wind, the admiral stood at attention on the Dover Air Force Base tarmac with the transfer team, and was the first person to salute as the remains of each servicemember’s body arrived back on American soil.
The families watched their loved ones come home from war in the worst imaginable way: unthinkably slain allegedly by one of their own, now in flag-draped coffins, quietly offloaded to the sound they never wanted to hear.
Taps is played every night at 2200. On Wednesday, the first mournful notes coincidentally began on cue as the doors slowly were closed on a painfully plain white truck that carried Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, Pfc. Michael E. Yates and Maj. Matthew P. Houseal from the 747 to the morgue.
A shuttle van blocked the media from the view of families who flew to witness the returns. But once Taps began, it could not block the sound of women sobbing.
The shootings have raised alarms from Washington to Baghdad about the strain on the nation’s fighting forces, some on their fifth rotations into the theaters during seven years of constant warfare. On Tuesday and Wednesday, reporters converged on the hometowns and families of the fallen, asking for more information, often receiving more questions than answers.
Mullen has trekked to Dover several times to attend the arrivals of servicemembers who have died overseas in theaters of war, his spokesman Capt. John Kirby said. Mullen did not speak to the press on Wednesday.
“He came simply to show his respect and to offer his condolences to the families of these fallen,” Kirby said.
The families of Navy Cmdr. Charles Springle and Army Spc. Jacob D. Barton opted out of media and Pentagon coverage of the event, and the bodies of their loved ones were removed from the 747 privately, before reporters were brought to the tarmac.
They all were supposed to be in an oasis among chaos: a health clinic, a place to seek advice, unwind, sort out problems, get better.
Instead they were met by gunfire, allegedly by one of their own who himself could not handle the pressures of war.
The tragedy among tragedies has been so moving that more media came to Dover for this arrival than for any other since the first ceremony open to media coverage on April 5. Roughly two dozen reporters, photographers and cameramen attended, some from as far as New York City.
The five bring the total number of bodies returned since the media ban was lifted to 36. Of those, 25 families have approved media coverage of the ceremony. On some occasions no reporters came, save for an Associated Press photographer.
For some who knew these men and their families, there is little they feel they can do.
Margie Antal-Green was an elementary school guidance counselor for Barton, who graduated high school just last year. She knows his grandmother and sister, and drives by the family home on the way to work every day.
Reached by phone Wednesday, she said, “I don’t know what to do except pray for them.”