May 23rd, 2009
01:51 PM ET
5 years ago

Dover 'Old Guard' team shoulders heavy burden

Staff. Sgt. Cody Reeves works out with his fellow Old Guard soldiers.
Staff. Sgt. Cody Reeves works out with his fellow Old Guard soldiers.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Staff Sgt. Cody Reeves has survived harrowing conditions and stared down enemies on the battlefield during two tours in the military hotspots of Iraq.

Now he is stationed near Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, trained to carry the remains of fellow soldiers who perished in that same conflict.

Before,"it was all about catching the bad guy," Reeves said. "When you come here, it's all about honoring your brothers who are fallen for catching the bad guys, for their service."

Reeves serves in the Army's Old Guard, a tight-knit group of soldiers of similar height and size who physically bear the weight of the Army's fallen veterans. The Old Guard conducts a 15-minute ceremony called a dignified transfer.

A recent decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives families the choice to allow media to film the solemn event. It's the first time in 20 years the ceremony has been open to the press.

Every detail of the transfer is precise. When an American soldier dies overseas, the Old Guard is called into action. They travel from their base to Dover, where they meet the aircraft carrying the soldier's body. The six men receive the flag-draped casket, which can weigh 500 pounds, and carry the soldier's body to a waiting vehicle.

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