President Barack Obama abruptly canceled an event Tuesday at a trucking business in Springfield, Va., leaving many wondering what happened to cause the president to suddenly change his plans.
Later in the morning it became quite clear why he canceled the Interstate Moving Services event -- Obama instead flew to Dover, Del., in order to privately honor the remains of fallen troops killed in a helicopter attack over the weekend that claimed more American lives than any other incident of the Afghanistan war.
Obama arrived at Dover Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon to preside as the remains of U.S. forces were carried off a military cargo plane in flag-covered cases. His unscheduled afternoon trip here was kept secret to ensure the security of his helicopter flight to Delaware. Members of the media covering the trip agreed in advance not to report on it until he had landed.
After paying his respects on the two C-17s that contained the remains of the fallen servicemen, Obama motorcaded to a building on base where approximately 250 family members and fellow servicemen and women of the fallen had gathered.
He spent more than an hour meeting informally with family members, offering his condolences for their loss and his deep gratitude for their sacrifice and service.
An entrenched wartime president, Obama has been here before.
In the dark of an October morning in 2009, Obama watched solemnly as 18 Americans killed in the Afghan war came home, a visceral reminder of a war that has long slipped from the forefront of American debate. He would later call it the most powerful moment of his young presidency.
Obama is now honoring the U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan Saturday when their helicopter was shot down by a Taliban insurgent using a rocket-propelled grenade.
A total of 30 U.S. troops, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter died.
They had been packed into a twin-rotor chopper, en route to help coalition ground forces in a battle with insurgents. Many of the Americans who died were members of the Navy's SEAL Team Six, the
elite unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan three months ago. None of the SEALs killed in the crash took part in the bin Laden mission.
Three days after the downing of the aircraft by insurgents, the Defense Department has not released the troops' names. Officials said it is taking time because there were so many killed. Others said privately there is hesitancy to release the names because the majority were from secretive special operations forces.
One of the SEALs who died, Aaron Vaughn, was based in Virginia Beach, Va.
His widow, Kimberly Vaughn, and his parents spoke with the Today Show from McLean, Va., on Monday.
“After 9/11, Aaron told me and his mother he wanted to be a SEAL, and he said he wanted to ever since he was a little boy," his father, Billy Vaughn, said. “He felt, and so did the other members of his team, that the very existence of our republic is at stake, and because of that, Aaron was willing to give his life."
The devastating loss comes just ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America that prompted the war in Afghanistan.
The military calls the process of moving the remains a "dignified transfer." Cases draped in American flags are carried off a giant plane, one by one, by a team of military personnel from
the fallen member's respective service. Each case is placed in a vehicle and then taken to a mortuary.