President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence headed straight to Dover Air Force Base after a New Hampshire rally late Monday to take part in a “dignified transfer ceremony” for a pair of 28-year-old soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez, of San Antonio, died Saturday in a firefight in Nangarhar Province. Both soldiers were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group based in Florida.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence stood at attention as a flag-draped transfer case was carried down the ramp of a C-17 aircraft ramp and into a nearby van. Six white-gloved members of the carry team then repeated the solemn process.
The White House said it was the first time since 2009 that the president and vice president attended a dignified transfer together. The men joined the families of the fallen soldiers inside the aircraft for a prayer before the ceremony.
Mr. Trump flew to Dover from a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he revved his supporters and derided his Democratic foes on the eve of that state’s primary elections. The rally speech was short by Mr. Trump’s standards, at 57 minutes.
“These were fallen heroes, and we were close by and the president wrapped his rally early so he could come,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters traveling with Mr. Trump.
Mr. O’Brien said dignified transfer ceremonies and visits to wounded veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland are the “toughest” things the president does.
Earlier Monday, Mr. Trump continued to downplay the seriousness of injuries U.S. troops suffered during a Jan. 8 Iranian attack on an American military base in Iraq.
The Defense Department on Monday said 109 troops have been diagnosed with “mild traumatic brain injuries” since the attack on Al Asad Air Base, another major increase in the reported numbers.
“They landed in a way that they didn’t hit anybody,” he told Fox Business Network, referring to the Iranian missiles. “And so when they came in and told me that nobody was killed, I was impressed by that and, you know, I stopped something that would have been very devastating for them.”
It was unclear what Mr. Trump had stopped.
Mr. Trump previously referred to the injuries as “headaches” when they came to light in late January.
The president told Fox that head trauma “exists, but it’s, you know, I viewed it a little bit differently than most, and I won’t be changing my mind on that.”