Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier
A military honor guard carries the coffin of Army Pvt. Cheziray Pressley on Friday morning from an airplane at Charleston Air Force Base to a waiting hearse.
Garry Sweeny didn't know Army Pvt. Cheziray Pressley, but he knew the soldier had made the ultimate sacrifice.
"I never met him. I just heard his name on the radio," said Sweeny, a motorcycle rider from Summerville and one of two dozen Patriot Guard Riders who accompanied Pressley's remains from Charleston Air Force Base.
"We're honored to do it."
The body of the North Charleston soldier, killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan two weeks ago, returned home Friday, completing a 7,000-mile journey from war zone to family.
The "hero's flight" arrival was the first at the base that allowed media coverage, as per the family's wishes and Defense Secretary Robert Gates' easing of restrictions that date to 2009.
The chartered plane from Dover, Del., touched down at 9:25 a.m., bringing all work along the base flight line to a halt. Moments later, Pressley's flag-draped casket emerged from the plane to be returned to his family. The moment was solemn and no music was played.
Pressley is among the 1,234 U.S. troops and civilians killed in action in Afghanistan since the war began there a decade ago. Most of the fatalities in recent years are attributed to improvised explosive devices.
Pressley's mother, Jirlie Pressley, said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she saw during the 15-mile ride from the base to a funeral home in downtown Charleston. Traffic stopped and spectators stood with hands on their hearts as the hearse passed by.
"It let me know how much people cared for my son," Pressley said during an interview at Fielding Home for Funerals on Logan Street.
The hardest part of the day, she said, was the moment Cheziray's casket was removed and placed beside the plane, where the family was given a moment of private grieving time.
"I knew he was home," she said. "That was so important."
Pressley, 21, had been in Afghanistan for just a few days when he and three other soldiers were killed by an explosion May 16 in Zabul province as a bomb tore into their vehicle. All four were assigned to the Brigade Troops Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Pressley, a 2008 graduate of Fort Dorchester High School, had been married in December. In addition to his wife he leaves behind a daughter. A memorial service, open to the public, is scheduled for Monday at 3 p.m. at the Charleston Area Convention Center off International Boulevard in North Charleston.
Until then, Pressley's remains will be guarded by an escort soldier. Staff Sgt. Todd Shriver of New Jersey volunteered to accompany Pressley until his burial.
Shriver called the escort assignment an honor.
"It's like being called to duty."