Alaska Airlines 14th Fallen Hero Cart arrives at San Antonio Airport

Photos by Molly J. Smith

Custom designed cart to honor active, retired and veteran military service members   

Last week, our 14th Fallen Hero Cart arrived at San Antonio International Airport after a journey of more than 2,000 miles from SeaTac, Washington.

The cart will be used by San Antonio International Airport to ensure the remains of those who’ve served our country and those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice are treated with respect and honored while being transported to and from the aircraft. It will be available for any airline to use.

Pioneered by a group of Alaska maintenance & engineering team members in 2011, the Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Program was founded to provide proper Department of Defense protocols for handling and transporting fallen military service members.

This program is designed to make sure every service member, active, retired or veteran, and their families are honored for their service and sacrifice in a respectful and dignified manner on their final journey,” said Brian Bowden, Alaska line aircraft technician and founder of the Fallen Soldier Program. “The goal is to have a cart at every station we serve.”  

Months in the making

While the basic elements of the Fallen Soldier Carts are the same, each one also features some unique elements.

The planning to create a cart begins months in advance with most of the work being done by volunteers in Seattle.

“We chose San Antonio because we’ve had several Fallen Hero flights in and out of there over the years. There are also four military bases nearby,” said Kevin Kruse, Alaska line aircraft technician and founder of the Fallen Soldier Program. “When we consider destinations, we prioritize cities with a strong military presence.”

Alaska also has two inspectors based in San Antonio, Todd Gibson and Tom Wertman, who have been instrumental in the design and building of each cart since 2011.

The basic elements of the carts are identical. They have American flag curtains and red carpet on the inside. They are painted Navy blue with the emblems of each branch of the United States Armed Forces on the front and back, and a large decal mounted on the top representing the program. Each cart also features some unique elements.

“The build team puts a lot of effort into customizing each cart specific to the station it’s dedicated to,” Kruse said. “Our machine shop makes a ‘license plate’ with the airport code, and there is artwork mounted inside each cart representing the city and state. The San Antonio cart has the city seal on one end, and a woodcarving dedicated to the State of Texas Peace Officers on the other.”

Sendoff to San Antonio

On May 10, more than 50 Alaska and Horizon Air employees, community members, leaders and members of the Patriot Guard gathered at Angle Lake Park near Alaska’s Corporate Headquarters to send the Fallen Hero Cart off on its journey to San Antonio.

Accompanied by members of the Patriot Guard, the cart was transported on its 2,000-mile journey by trailer and arrived to San Antonio International Airport (SAT) on May 22.

“This was my first time being part of such a remarkable event, and I was deeply moved by the passion and dedication of everyone involved,” said Brandon L., Horizon project manager. “The cart itself was incredible, and the words shared by the Patriot Guard Riders resonated deeply. I feel immensely grateful to be a part of this program, honoring the sacrifice of our servicemen and women.”

Dedication ceremony in San Antonio

On May 22, Alaska Airlines employees, in conjunction with San Antonio International Airport and San Antonio Aerospace, a Commercial Aerospace unit of ST Engineering, held a hand-off ceremony today for a new Fallen Hero Cart based at SAT.

It was the largest Fallen Soldier Cart dedication we’ve ever had and the first time two military livery aircraft have been able to join the hand-off.

Due to the size of ST Engineering’s facility, we had the opportunity to bring our 737-800 ‘Honoring Those Who Serve’ special aircraft in from Seattle and Horizon flew the E175 with a similar livery in from Portland to use as a backdrop for the ceremony. Several employees who made contributions to the program traveled on those aircraft to witness the ceremony.

Carlos Zendejas, Horizon VP of flight operations, speaks at the ceremony in San Antonio.

The event in San Antonio was especially impactful because in just a few days on Memorial Day, we will remember all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

– Carlos Zendejas, Horizon VP of flight operations

“It was an amazing experience to see both aircraft side by side and to see the cart presented to San Antonio. These carts ‘Honor Those Who Serve’ and transport our fallen heroes home to their final resting place with honor and dignity,” Zendejas said. “The event was especially impactful because on Memorial Day, we remember all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice; we owe them and their families a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.”