Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

KUWAIT: U.S. dead walk off the battlefield

November 20, 2008 |  2:36 pm


It may be the saddest place linked to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Before soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed in the wars can be returned home to their families for burial (like that above), their bodies pass through a nondescript building tucked away in a corner of the Abdullah Al Mubarak Air Base in Kuwait, which the U.S. shares with the Kuwaitis.

It is here that military mortuary workers repack the bodies in ice for the long flight home. Possessions are carefully inventoried.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are "collection centers" where the bodies are taken initially. Once they arrive in Kuwait, the flag-draped caskets are put on a flight to the military mortuary at Dover, Del., for an official autopsy.

Work at the Casualty Processing Center in Kuwait is done quickly and with great solemnity, said Army Sgt. Ryan Dunn, a member of a mortuary affairs unit from Fort Lee, Va., now in charge of the center. There are measurements to take: the amount of ice depends on the size, and condition, of the body.

Rituals are carefully observed. There are ceremonies when the caskets are taken off the plane from Iraq or Afghanistan and then put back on a plane for Dover.

When a casket is brought to the Kuwait center, it is wheeled in so the feet are in the lead, symbolic of a soldier walking off the battlefield for the final time.

--Tony Perry, Kuwait

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times