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Biden attends the dignified transfer at Dover for service members killed in Jordan

President Biden watches the dignified transfer of the remains of the three U.S. service members killed in the drone attack in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Feb. 2.
Roberto Schmidt
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden watches the dignified transfer of the remains of the three U.S. service members killed in the drone attack in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Feb. 2.

One by one, the transfer cases carrying the remains of Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga.; and Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga. were carefully carried off a gray C-5 transport plane.

They were all Army reservists, killed last weekend in a drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan near the Syrian border.

President Biden stood with his hand over his heart, an expression of deep pain on his face, looking straight ahead as the flag-draped cases were brought past him. First lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown stood nearby.

President Biden, First lady Jill Biden, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend the dignified transfer of three U.S. service members killed in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base.
Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden, First lady Jill Biden, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend the dignified transfer of three U.S. service members killed in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base.

It is one of the most solemn tasks for a commander-in-chief, bearing witness as the bodies of fallen service members return to U.S. soil at Dover Air Force Base. It is known as a dignified transfer and it is freighted with emotion as family members of the fallen watch as the cases are carried from the plane.

The family members had met with the Bidens before the dignified transfer began, and watched the solemn movement from a small section of white folding chairs set up on the tarmac out of view from the members of the media who travel with the president.

The U.S. government is still investigating how Iranian-backed militants were able to successfully attack the outpost. Biden told reporters earlier this week that he has already authorized a response. The White House has said that the response would include a series of actions and would roll out over time.

On Thursday, Biden said he was praying for the families of the three service members who were killed.

"I spoke with each of these families separately," Biden said at the national prayer breakfast. "They risked it all and we'll never forget the sacrifices and service to our country. And the dozens of service members who were wounded and are recovering now."

As president, Biden has attended one other dignified transfer in 2021 for service members killed in Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal. Some of the families criticized him afterward, blaming his policies for the loss of their loved ones.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution captured video of Biden's call with Shawn Sanders and Oneida Oliver-Sanders, the parents of Sgt. Kennedy Landon Sanders. During the call, Biden offered his condolences, offered the support of the nation and shared his own experience of loss.

He also asked their permission to be there with them for the dignified transfer. When Biden told them that Sanders had been posthumously promoted to sergeant, Oliver-Sanders broke down.

"You don't know how much that means to us," she said.
Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.