SOUTHWEST ASIA -- It was just eight minutes. I would think about that later. It was just eight short minutes from the time the troop commander called everyone to attention to the time he dismissed us. Just eight short minutes that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Eight short minutes in which I watched two fallen military members transferred out the back of a C-17 Globemaster III and onto a waiting truck. Eight minutes where I, along with about 90 other military members, all ranks, all services, civilians too, stood at attention and slowly rendered a salute as those two flag-draped cases were carried off of that aircraft.
Before those eight minutes, the passengers who had been sharing their flight with these two fallen warriors were asked to exit the aircraft and form up two lines, one on either side of the cargo ramp at the 387th Air Expeditionary Group, which is part of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.
Twelve across, we stood. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen all stood solemnly at parade rest. No one told us to; it was just natural, like the moment demanded every ounce of our military discipline.
It didn't matter that some of these passengers had traveled all day and were only stopping for a little while. It didn't matter that some of us had worked an entire 12-hour day when that aircraft landed late that night.
What mattered were those eight minutes.
As the troop commander called the formation to attention, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. I saw the sharp snap of the six Airmen whose charge it was to carry these fallen warriors off of the aircraft. With grace and poise, these six Airmen performed the transfer.
As they walked past me, I thought of the warriors in those cases. I thought about how these warriors wouldn't be able to feel the soft breeze on a still night. They wouldn't be able to hold their families, hug them or kiss them again. They wouldn't be able to see the stars again.
For those eight minutes, I thought about a lifetime of things these two fallen warriors would never be a part of again. As that thought passed through me with a shiver, I stood a little bit taller, saluted just a little bit sharper. If these two warriors were never going to see these simple joys again, the least I could give was everything, every single thing I had, for the remainder of those eight minutes.
They deserved it. They deserved all that the solemn 90-man formation had that night.
These two warriors gave their life for those simple freedoms, for those things that many of us take for granted. In those eight minutes, I thanked those warriors from the depths of my soul. I thanked them for their sacrifice, and for paying the ultimate price.
My day started as mundane and routine, just another day on my deployment, one more day closer to me returning to my family. It did not, however, end that way.
In those eight short minutes my perspective was forever changed.
Editor's note: This commentary took top honors in the Department of Defense Thomas Jefferson Award Contest for best commentary.