An Air Force C-17 Globemaster brought the flag-draped metal casket bearing the remains of Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene back to the U.S. on Thursday to a simple, solemn and brief "Dignified Transfer" ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Greene, the victim of a so-called insider attack in Afghanistan on Tuesday that wounded 15 other coalition troops, will be buried next week with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The arrival party consisted of Army Secretary John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Air Force Col. Richard G. Moore, the Dignified Transfer host and commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover.
They briefly boarded the C-17 accompanied by a chaplain and emerged a few minutes later, standing to the side of the cargo ramp.
Odierno and Moore saluted, and McHugh held his right hand to his heart, as six soldiers wearing black berets, white gloves and camouflage uniforms slowly carried the casket down the ramp to a waiting vehicle for the short trip to the Dover mortuary, the largest in the military.
The silence of the nine-minute ceremony – the same at Dover no matter the rank of the individual – was broken only by the crisp commands of seventh Soldier directing the six casket bearers.
President Obama, who has attended several previous similar ceremonies for troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, was not at the Dover arrival Thursday morning.
At Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he signed the recently passed $16.3 billion Veterans Administration bill, Obama spoke to the sacrifices of Greene and all who served in Afghanistan.
"It continues to be a difficult and dangerous mission, as we were tragically reminded again this week in the attack that injured a number of our coalition troops and took the life of a dedicated American soldier, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene," Obama said. "Our prayers are with the Greene family" and all other Gold Star families, the president said.
The 55-year-old Greene, a 34-year Army veteran, was a logistics and acquisitions expert who had served since January as deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. He was the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Greene's home was in Falls Church, Virginia, but he was born in Boston. He was raised on the outskirts of Albany, New York, and graduated from nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, ordered all flags at government buildings in the state to be flown at half-staff in Greene's honor. "We will never forget his sacrifice and we will honor his service with pride," the governor said.
Harold F. Greene, the general's 85-year-old father, told the Albany Times Union that his son had been planning to go on leave from Afghanistan starting Friday, and was anxious to use the tickets he had received to go to Fenway Park to see his beloved Red Sox.
"There's no way in the world you can protect against a complete surprise," said the senior Greene, himself an Army veteran. "I don't know what happened," the father said, but "I know I am entitled to a report when it's done."
Greene's younger brother, Johnathan, said, "Here's all you need to know about my thoughts: I'm 52 years old, and he's still my hero."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com