The first stop back on U.S. soil for American service members killed overseas is Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. It's where their families wait, where VIPs gather and where the honor guard is called.
It’s at this site where members of the Air Force mortuary affairs team have the solemn task of preparing the remains of America's war dead for burial. Every day is Memorial Day here.
"There's not another mission exactly like it in the military," said Maj. Matthew Knight, senior chaplain at Dover.
"We get to bring home our fallen with honor, and we get to keep America's promise. We want to ensure, whenever our fallen come through here, that they and their loved ones are shown dignity and respect."
Sgt. First Class Crystal Seymore is an Army liaison officer for the families of the fallen and is based out of Dover. Her task is to provide comfort and care for all families during their brief stay during the dignified transfer.
The caskets carrying fallen service members are always wrapped in the American flag, and an honor guard escorts them off the plane. The deceased's family is usually waiting on the tarmac.
Seymore has been deployed to Dover four times since her initial deployment in 2004. She says it’s the mission and the impact on the families that has brought her back for repeat tours. She still keeps in touch with some of the families she has met at Dover.
"I feel as though I've touched a multitude of families around the most tragic time, one of the most tragic times within their life," Seymore said.
Protocols and routines are established to help make the difficult transition for their next of kin. The families are brought to Fisher House, a facility donated by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher and their family that accommodates them while they wait for their loved one to land at the base.
A liaison officer explains the process there. The Fisher House is designed for all ages, whether it be an elderly parent, a devastated spouse or a young child
"There are toys here for the children that come here with their family members," Seymore said. "There's a TV over to your left here. There are movies, There's a PlayStation. And it also just gives them a comfortable environment while they wait."
Sometimes the families are in denial, right up until the moment they are brought to the flight line to watch the carry team move the transfer case holding the remains of their loved one from the military flight.
"I remember having a family who came and sat down with a small child and just refused to believe that their loved one had died," said Maj. Knight. "They didn't believe it was real. They didn't want to accept that it was real. But when they saw his transfer case come off the aircraft, suddenly an emotional dam broke. And there was a turning point with that family."
The last Americans to die in Afghanistan landed in Dover last August: 11 Marines, a Navy corpsman and a soldier who were killed at Abbey Gate by a suicide bomber just days before the U.S. withdrawal was complete.
Their arrival was broadcast live on TV with the permission of the families. President Biden, the Joint Chiefs and cabinet members were in attendance.
Despite being at Dover for nearly two years, Maj. Knight believes that while the mission has never gotten easier, it has taught him about the painful reminder of sacrifice for those serving abroad.
"When all of us raise our right hand and swear into the military, we swear to support and defend the Constitution," Knight said. "We make a promise to America, but something else happens. America makes a promise to us that should anything happen to us while we're serving, we will be brought home with honor. We don't leave our fallen behind."