The airman in reflective vest, with lighted wands, gives the pilot of the C-17 Globemaster III the final pantomime directing the parking before crossing the wands in an X shape. The nose of the plane dips just a bit as brakes are applied to stop the huge airplane as it still strobes its red warning lights. The four massive P&W F117 engines keep running emitting their classic sound as the two pilots go through their shutdown checklists. While down in the cargo area, the three loadmasters and escorts go through their own checklists to ensure this most solemn of charges is carried out with all the proper respect.
Outside the crew from aerial port ignores the strangers on the ramp while the airmen in Air Force blue six-pack trucks watch everything. Their M-9s and M-4s are properly secured even as they sit in full battle rattle. Finally the engines of the massive transport shut down after faithfully flying from Ramstein AB Germany, again.
The lights flicker in the cargo area as power switches over to the onboard APU. The lighting inside is fluorescent as a loadmaster, at her control panel on the right side aft, commands the massive aft ramp to lower. A crack of white light is seen in the fuselage of the plane by the aerial port crew, security forces, and strangers. All react in ways typical of their profession. The security forces start to scan the surrounding areas more intently while the strangers lean forward as they ready their own equipment. The aerial port crew merely waits as the ramp continues to lower, when it reaches a certain point, like four articulated fingers, the back half of the ramp unfolds. The loadmaster watches the operation carefully until the fingers contact the concrete ramp and then stops the operation.
While this was happening, the other two loadmasters have walked down the sides of the troop compartment to release the ADS restraint rail system and the other restraints holding the pallets and their sacred cargo. Gingerly the escorts move their cargo into orderly rows down the length of the troop compartment and over each is draped an American flag. Gentle and precise attention is given each flag to ensure it is perfectly aligned and unwrinkled. Mercifully there are only eight such flag draped coffins on this mission.
Then its time for the final movement. Each coffin is precisely picked up by its escort and carefully carried down the ramp into the gentle night. It seems the weather is cooperating to welcome America’s fallen warriors home from foreign lands as a bright full moon shines down upon the scene. As an escort’s foot strikes the concrete of the ramp and hence American soil, the strangers cannot hold themselves back any longer and the beautiful moonlight is washed away in the flashing white glare of camera flashes and of television lights. Grips tighten among the escort as they fight against the sudden blindness all those lights inflict. They ignore the tumult as they and the aerial port crew tend to their honored comrades but on the quiet ramp they cannot close their ears as the reporters destroy the solemn scene with a barrage of questions aimed at hapless public affairs officers who had escorted them.