The three DEA agents killed were identified as 37-year-old Forrest Leamon and 30-year-old Chad Michael, both from Virginia, and 37-year-old Michael Weston of Washington. Weston, like Obama, was a Harvard Law School graduate.
Obama's participation in this sad military tradition comes at a critical time for the president, as he weighs sending as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Obama continues to deliberate with his commanders and advisors and will likely make a decision on troop levels in the next few weeks.
The dignified transfer is not considered a "ceremony" by the military; rather, it is considered a "solemn movement" of the transfer case carrying a soldiers' remains. A team of six military personnel from the fallen member's respective service carry the case and a senior flag officer attends every transfer.
A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country.
The official party this night included Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, U.S. Army Assistant Judge Advocate Maj Gen Daniel Wright, U.S. Army Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Col. Robert Edmondson, who will serve as the Dignified Transfer Host Officer.
On the helicopter flight back to Washington, D.C., the president thanked Beers for arranging the trip, after which no one said a word for the remainder of the 45-minute flight.
"Sending men and women into combat is the toughest part of the job," the official says, "and this is what happens when they come home tragically. It was very, very powerful."
The president returned to the White House at 4:43am.