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Charleston Airmen fly honorable mission

An Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Spc. Israel Candelaria Mejias off from a C-17 Globemaster III April 7 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Specialist Candelaria Mejias of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, died April 5 of wounds sustained when a mine detonated near him during combat operations near Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment in Task Force 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 172nd Brigade Combat Team from Grafenwoehr, Germany. The C-17 is assigned to Charleston AFB, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik)

An Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Spc. Israel Candelaria Mejias off from a C-17 Globemaster III April 7 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Specialist Candelaria Mejias of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, died April 5 of wounds sustained when a mine detonated near him during combat operations near Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment in Task Force 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 172nd Brigade Combat Team from Grafenwoehr, Germany. The C-17 is assigned to Charleston AFB, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik)

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- Charleston Air Force Base C-17 Globemaster III aircrews flew the most precious of cargo April 7 -- the remains of a fallen hero.

Army Spc. Israel Candelaria Mejias of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment in Task Force 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 172nd Brigade Combat Team from Grafenwoehr, Germany, was killed April 5 near Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds he sustained when a mine detonated near him during combat operations. 

An aircrew from the 14th Airlift Squadron was in crew rest at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, when they were alerted and notified their mission back to the U.S. would be a dignified transfer from Ramstein AB, Germany, to Dover AFB, Del., where Specialist Mejias' family would be waiting for him.

There was an unspoken silence on the two-hour bus ride from Spangdahlem AB to Ramstein AB, and all the priorities you had at home come to a screeching halt, said Tech. Sgt. Erin Manley, a loadmaster with the 14th AS.

"You go out to the jet and reality sets in," she said. Once the Charleston AFB C-17 departed Ramstein AB, the aircrew flew a 9.5-hour direct flight to Dover AFB. It is the policy of the Department of Defense and the mission of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center to return the remains of any fallen servicemember to their family as quickly as possible.

"It taxes on your emotions," said Senior Airman Stephen Adams, another loadmaster from the 14th AS. "We have a lot of time to reflect about the sacrifice of the individual."

After touching down at Dover AFB, the aircrew stood in formation on the ramp of the C-17 and saluted Specialist Mejias as an Army carry team transferred his body.

Some mistake dignified transfers as a ceremony. The AFMAOC staff; however, said it's a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of the military personnel from the fallen member's respective service. Each dignified transfer is presided over by a senior ranking officer of the fallen member's service. Sergeant Manley said while standing in formation they could see Specialist Mejias' family near the end of the ramp.

"With as much grief as they are feeling, you hope they can see the care and the attention to detail; there is more sense of pride, the jet's clean, the flag's on straight. There's nothing you want to go wrong, because this guy deserves everything," she said.

"It's pretty emotional," Airman Adams added. "We try to return our military servicemembers with honor, and that's what we did."

Once Specialist Mejias' body was transferred from the C-17 to a waiting vehicle, he was taken to the Port Mortuary where the AFMAO staff prepared his body for his final trip home to San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico.

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