Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, a former Harford County resident killed while fighting Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday among many others who have given their lives fighting for freedom around the world.
Staff Sgt. De Aelencar, 37, was buried with full military honors in Section 60 of the sprawling Northern Virginia cemetery, where the rolling hills are covered with rows of white tombstones marking the graves of more than 400,000 people, including active-duty military, veterans and their relatives.
A number of troops who have served during the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried in Section 60, according to Courtney Dock, an Arlington public affairs specialist who briefed members of the media before the service.
Their grave markers could be seen among those of people who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
The band played a solemn, steady drum beat as they marched toward the funeral service site a short distance from Staff Sgt. De Alencar's burial plot.
They were followed by an escort platoon, rifle-firing party and pallbearers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, the Army officers who would lead the service and then a horse-drawn carriage bearing De Alencar's flag-draped casket.
The soldier's family, including his wife, Natasha, their five children and his parents, Joao and Maria De Alencar, walked at the head of the column of mourners who came behind the casket.
Some family members were dressed all in black, others wore white shirts and dark pants.
Nearly 30 funerals are conducted at Arlington each day Monday through Friday, plus six to eight each Saturday, according to the cemetery website.
Gunshots from a rifle volley salute for a nearby funeral could be heard as the service for Staff Sgt. De Alencar started.
The cemetery, which is across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is open to the public, and people could be seen visiting grave sites, plus several tour groups were at the main entrance — those groups were not in the vicinity of the De Alencar service, though.
"Because Staff Sgt. De Alencar was killed in action on active duty, he's eligible for a full military honors funeral in Arlington National Cemetery," cemetery spokesperson Dock explained. "We take great pride in providing . . . those final honors for a service member. It's our primary function to serve as the nation's premier military cemetery."
"We really are a national shine," she said. "We are here to honor those men and women who have served our country."
Staff Sgt. De Alencar was in the Army Special Forces, a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), based in Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He died April 8 from wounds he suffered in combat while working with Afghan troops.
A small group of soldiers stood on the outer edge of the crowd of mourners. Many of them are active-duty Special Forces troops, according to Dock.
About 8,400 American troops are serving in Afghanistan, and President Donald Trump is considering sending more than 3,000 additional personnel to a country where the U.S. has been fighting since 2001, according a report Tuesday in The Washington Post.
The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan, the location of America's longest war, to hunt down al-Qaeda militants like those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and their Taliban supporters.
Militants affiliated with the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been fighting with American troops and their Afghan allies in recent months.
Seventeen people with ties to Harford County, civilian and military, have died during the nearly 16-year war on terror. Three others were killed during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and two others who were active duty military died as a result of terrorist attacks prior to 9/11.
The relatives of Staff Sgt. De Alencar are now among the families who must cope with the loss of their loved ones during the ongoing conflict.
Brig. Gen. Antonio Fletcher, assistant commanding general with the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) presented seven folded flags to the solidier's family — one to his wife, one to each of his children and one to his parents.
The general could be seen comforting a crying Natasha De Alencar as he gave her the flag. Her son DeShaun Osborne, who eulogized his stepfather during a funeral Tuesday at St. Francis de Sales Church in Abingdon, gave Fletcher a slight salute after accepting his flag.