COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Army Sgt. Aaron Kramer's family is preparing for his Saturday funeral now that the body of the 22-year-old soldier, killed in Afghanistan Sept. 16, has been returned to Utah.
The Utah Air National Guard hosted a brief ceremony Thursday at its base on the east side of the Salt Lake City International Airport. More than 200 Air Guard members stood at attention as a chartered jet rolled up in front of the base operations center at 11 a.m.
The first person out of the plane was the fallen soldier's twin brother, Sgt. Brandon Kramer, who recently returned from Iraq and got permission to escort his brother's casket home from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The twins joined the Army after high school — Aaron assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Brandon assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, N.C. They served in Iraq, then simultaneously served in both of the United States' battle zones: Brandon in Iraq and Aaron in Afghanistan.
Brandon stood at attention at the nose of the chartered jet as the flight crew lowered the casket onto a cart on the tarmac on Thursday.
Their parents, Richard and Shannon, Aaron's wife, Jackie, Aaron's older sister, Jennifer, and her husband and two sons somberly made their way toward the casket at the side of the small jet. Brandon joined them, and the mother of the two soldiers leaned over the casket, embracing it, as extended family joined the group.
The family spent about 15 minutes on the tarmac before an Army Reserve honor guard carried the casket to a waiting hearse.
Fifty members of the Patriot Guard Riders lined the path, carrying American flags that snapped in the breeze. The motorcycle group was formed to help show respect at events like the one at the airport, and later at the funeral, said ride captain Matt Munk.
"We only come when the immediate family asks us to," he said. "This is what we were formed for — to shield and protect the family."
"Our hearts are just full," Aaron Kramer's uncle and family spokesman, Dallan Sohm, said as a police motorcade was escorting the family and fallen solder away from the base.
"I have deep feelings for the sacrifice he made," said Sohm, an Army National Guard special forces veteran. "I'm very proud."
According to the family, Aaron Kramer was leading his squad when enemy forces attacked a base they were guarding. He was shot in the ensuing gun battle and died either during a helicopter transport or after reaching a military hospital in Kabul. His sister said he had been injured by a roadside bomb just four weeks before the injury that cost him his life.
A recurring theme with the family as they talk about their fallen soldier is the relationship he had with his brother.
"They've never been separated," said Sohm. "He had no words" as the family huddled on the tarmac, "Only tears." As for Aaron, "I think he would say 'thank you,' " the uncle said.
Sohm said Brandon had been determined to escort the body home since hearing of his brother's death. "He didn't know how to go about it, but he stuck with it until he got the orders approved."
The family plans a viewing Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the LDS Church meetinghouse at 2522 E. 6710 South. Funeral services are scheduled Saturday at 11 a.m. in the chapel with a second viewing the hour before the funeral. Interment will be at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park.