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Chief of Staff John Kelly offers emotional take on fallen soldier controversy

October 19, 2017 - 2:31 pm

(WASHINGTON) -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly emotionally addressed the outreach made in the aftermath of a U.S. servicemember's death at Thursday's White House press briefing on Thursday, a description that came on a week in which President Donald Trump found himself in the midst of a controversy over his alleged comments to the widow of a fallen soldier and claims about former presidents' engagement.

Kelly, whose son, First Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, was killed in action in 2010, described the process of alerting a fallen service member's family about their death and transporting their body back to the United States.

"Most Americans don't know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen in combat," Kelly said.

 Kelly described the painstaking process of bringing a fallen soldier home.

"Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud," he said adding that a fellow soldier "puts them on a helicopter as a routine and sends them home."

The bodies are packed in ice, he said, placed in the plane and flown to Europe. The soldier's remains are once again packed in ice and flown to Dover Air Force Base.

Once at Dover, the bodies are embalmed, then someone "meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the metals that they've earned, the emblems of their service and then puts them on another airplane linked up to the casualty officer escort that takes them home," Kelly continued.

A casualty officer then makes the solemn call to the home of the family, "very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on."

"And then he knocks on the door, typically the mom or dad will answer, wife. And if there is a wife this is happening in two different places, if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until, well for a long long time, even after the internment," Kelly said.

On Monday, Trump claimed that President Barack Obama did not make phone calls to service members' families following their deaths, though later partially walked back the comments saying, "I don't know if he did. No, no, no… was told that he didn't often, and a lot of presidents don't."

The president then received criticism when Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. claimed that he told the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson "he knew what he signed up for" during a condolence call.

Kelly told reporters on Thursday that the most important calls he received came in the immediate aftermath of his son's death.

"Hours after my son was killed his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was," Kelly said.

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