BILLINGS — The body of Sergeant Nathan Irish of Billings arrived back in the United States on Thursday after his death in Iraq.
The body of the 23-year old soldier was transferred back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware at around 4 p.m.
The U.S. Army says he died in a non-combat related incident on Sunday while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
He was a small arms/artillery repair NCO assigned with the 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. His awards included two Army Commendation Medals and three Army Achievement Medals. He also served in Kuwait from October 2017 to July 2018.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock said in a news release: “Lisa and I are heartbroken over the loss of Sgt. Nathan Irish. As a state and nation, we ask our brave soldiers and their families to sacrifice so much to keep our nation and communities safe. We send our condolences to Sgt. Irish’s loved ones during this difficult time.”
At the request of his family, no photos have been made available from Dover AFB 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 the America.
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 September 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.
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.
MTN News News confirmed that Sgt. Irish's body did go through the "dignified transfer process" late Thursday but there is no information yet on when he'll be returning to Montana.