A Soldier Comes Home
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
On July 5, The Post published a letter from Martha Gillis of Springfield, whose nephew, Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed in Afghanistan on June 25, the day that Michael Jackson died. The letter criticized the extensive media coverage of Jackson's death compared with the brief coverage of Lt. Bradshaw's death. Among the responses was the following letter, written July 9 by an Air National Guard pilot and a fellow member of the crew that flew Lt. Bradshaw's body from a forward base in Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base. Capt. James Adair, one of the plane's pilots, asked the editorial page staff to forward the letter to the Bradshaw family. He and Brian Bradshaw's parents then agreed to publication of these excerpts.
Dear Bradshaw Family,
We were crew members on the C-130 that flew in to pick up Lt. Brian Bradshaw after he was killed. We are Georgia Air National Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. We support the front-line troops by flying them food, water, fuel, ammunition and just about anything they need to fight. On occasion we have the privilege to begin the final journey home for our fallen troops. Below are the details to the best of our memory about what happened after Brian's death.
We landed using night-vision goggles. Because of the blackout conditions, it seemed as if it was the darkest part of the night. As we turned off the runway to position our plane, we saw what appeared to be hundreds of soldiers from Brian's company standing in formation in the darkness. Once we were parked, members of his unit asked us to shut down our engines. This is not normal operating procedure for that location. We are to keep the aircraft's power on in case of maintenance or concerns about the hostile environment. The plane has an extremely loud self-contained power unit. Again, we were asked whether there was any way to turn that off for the ceremony that was going to take place. We readily complied after one of our crew members was able to find a power cart nearby. Another aircraft that landed after us was asked to do the same. We were able to shut down and keep lighting in the back of the aircraft, which was the only light in the surrounding area. We configured the back of the plane to receive Brian and hurried off to stand in the formation as he was carried aboard.
Brian's whole company had marched to the site with their colors flying prior to our arrival. His platoon lined both sides of our aircraft's ramp while the rest were standing behind them. As the ambulance approached, the formation was called to attention. As Brian passed the formation, members shouted "Present arms" and everyone saluted. The salute was held until he was placed inside the aircraft and then the senior commanders, the sergeant major and the chaplain spoke a few words.
Afterward, we prepared to take off and head back to our base. His death was so sudden that there was no time to complete the paperwork needed to transfer him. We were only given his name, Lt. Brian Bradshaw. With that we accepted the transfer. Members of Brian's unit approached us and thanked us for coming to get him and helping with the ceremony. They explained what happened and how much his loss was felt. Everyone we talked to spoke well of him -- his character, his accomplishments and how well they liked him. Before closing up the back of the aircraft, one of Brian's men, with tears running down his face, said, "That's my platoon leader, please take care of him."
We taxied back on the runway, and, as we began rolling for takeoff, I looked to my right. Brian's platoon had not moved from where they were standing in the darkness. As we rolled past, his men saluted him one more time; their way to honor him one last time as best they could. We will never forget this.
We completed the short flight back to Bagram Air Base. After landing, we began to gather our things. As they carried Brian to the waiting vehicle, the people in the area, unaware of our mission, stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention. Those of us on the aircraft did the same. Four soldiers who had flown back with us lined the ramp once again and saluted as he passed by. We went back to post-flight duties only after he was driven out of sight.