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Body of Billings soldier arrives in U.S.

Posted at 6:24 PM, Oct 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-01 11:04:04-04

The body of an American soldier from Billings arrived stateside Thursday after his death in Iraq.

The body of 23-year-old Nathan Irish was transferred back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware around 4 p.m.

The US Army says he died in a non-combat related incident on Sunday while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Irish has been described as an "outstanding soldier by his superiors, earning six medals during his short time in the Army; his awards included two Army Commendation Medals and three Army Achievement Medals.

By the request of his family, no photos are available were made available from Dover when Irish's plane landed.

When a U.S. soldier dies overseas, there is an elaborate process and ceremony that takes place there.

It’s home to the Air Force Military Mortuary Affairs Operations Unit, where the bodies of American soldiers lost in combat are returned to U.S. soil

Mike Kelly, a reporter with the USA Today Network, has covered these landings and recently wrote a story about that unit and the soldier volunteers who work there.

In Kelly's words, they are ordinary people struggling to preserve a small flicker of humanity amid the carnage of war.

Among their assignments is to build the soldier's final uniform.

"The soldiers who work in the uniform shop want to get it right, and they work very, very hard to make sure that all the various medals and insignias that a soldier might have been awarded during his or her career are all in place and are accurate," Kelly said. "And there's no room, as I pointed out in the story, there's no room for mistakes here. This is the final journey for any solider who's killed."

More than 6,800 U.S. military personnel and American civilians have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Irish is among more than 2,100 Americans who have died in various war zones who have returned home to Dover Air Force Base, a place Kelly describes as the “unlikely bridge to America’s endless wars.

The soldiers working there told Kelly their jobs are "one of the greatest honors we can ever have in their career in the military, which really struck me. Because when we think of military folks as wanting to serve overseas, on the front lines or something important like that. Well this is what they consider vitally important in their work," Kelly said.

Q2 News confirmed that Sgt. Irish's body did go through the "dignified transfer process" late Thursday but no information yet on when he'll be returning to Montana.

One interesting side note, the Army Chaplain assigned to the Mortuary Unit at Dover is Major Darren Schwartz of Kalispell, who was likely among those on hand Thursday to offer the final welcome home to Irish.