Trump Visits Air Base for Return of Commando Killed During Raid

Updated on
  • White House allows no coverage of event at family’s request
  • President faces grim duty on only his 13th day in office

President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka walk out of the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Feb. 1, 2017.

Photographer: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday to meet the remains of a U.S. service member killed during a special forces raid in Yemen on Sunday, fulfilling a sober duty of the presidency on his 13th day in office.

Chief Petty Officer William Owens died in the first counter-terrorism operation Trump approved as president, a raid on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula carried out by the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 that left other U.S. commandos wounded and killed 14 militants, according to the Pentagon. Owens is the first U.S. combat casualty since Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

Stagecraft has defined nearly every major act of Trump’s young presidency, from a politically-laced speech against the backdrop of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Memorial Wall to a dramatic, Apprentice-style buildup for his Supreme Court nomination. But the president’s visit to the Delaware base, home to the military mortuary where fallen soldiers’ remains are prepared, is noteworthy for its absence of spectacle.

Respecting Owens’ family’s desire for privacy, the White House is not expected to allow news coverage or photography of the president’s actions on the base. Journalists were permitted to be present during Trump’s visit on condition they keep the event secret until the press pool landed. Trump left the White House at about 3 p.m. New York time, flying on the Marine One helicopter with his daughter, Ivanka, and his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The facility in Delaware, which also is home to the Families of the Fallen Center, has processed thousands of what are called "dignified transfers," including soldiers killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Family members are given the opportunity to travel to the base to meet the flights carrying their loved ones’ remains back to the U.S.

Trump, in a statement hours after the raid and before Owens’ identity was made public, offered “my deepest thoughts and humblest prayers” to the commando’s family. He also called Owens’ family to express his condolences. Trump praised the 36-year-old Peoria, Illinois, native as “a heroic service member” who lost his life in “our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Trump said in his statement that U.S. forces were able to gain “important intelligence” in the raid, which also resulted in the death of an 8-year-old U.S. citizen: the daughter of former al Qaeda strategist Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

A ban on coverage of the transfers of remains at Dover was lifted under President Barack Obama, reflecting his administration’s commitment to allow the U.S. public to see the costs of war. Obama made his first visit to the base in October 2009, nine months after taking office.

Arriving before dawn, the former president saluted as flag-draped cases containing service members’ remains were carried past him, and he met in private with family members.