Sgt. Dustin Perrott's boots lay beneath an American flag lowered to half staff as members of his company gave a final salute.
Perrott's first sergeant barked out his squad's roll call, shouting the fallen soldier's name three times into the still evening air. When the 23-year-old did not answer, a rifle volley shattered the silence. A bugler played taps.
"We place so much on the shoulders of men like Sgt. Perrott, and as his commander I'm glad he chose to serve," Lt. Col. Timothy McAteer, Perrott's battalion commander, told the several hundred soldiers gathered at the ceremony Saturday evening. "We must never let our nation forget his sacrifice."
Perrott became the 45th U.S. soldier to die in Afghanistan this year when the Humvee he was riding in through the southern province of Ghazni on Thursday was hit by a roadside bomb. Perrott, riding in the right rear seat, died from head injuries.
It was the fourth roadside bomb to explode in Ghazni in four days. U.S. soldiers here are participating in the first operation planned and led by the Afghan army, an effort to push Taliban fighters out of this region and establish security and government for the first time in years.
Called "Dusty" by the men in his company, the Virginia man volunteered to go to Iraq in December 2004. He had been awarded the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and a Purple Heart. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The roar from two Black Hawk helicopters that brought in the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, washed out the first minutes of the ceremony, held under a fading sun.
When the helicopters pulled away, sniffles from soldiers standing at attention could be heard.
Spc. Clinton Vance, a friend, quoted the Book of Isaiah: "The path I have chosen for you is this, to loosen the bonds of wickedness."
"He volunteered to leave his house and his wife to let those oppressed go free," Vance said.
A soldier played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes as soldiers wept. The men and women of the battalion filed past Perrott's boots, rifle and helmet. One knelt, another made the sign of the cross.
"It's a great way to say goodbye to a brave hero," Rodriguez said afterward, tears welling in his eyes. As the commanding general of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he attends almost every memorial ceremony.
As the last rays of light faded, soldiers from Perrott's company gathered for a final photo in front of his gear.
A giant reconnaissance blimp that had been lowered for the ceremony rose into the air to survey the base's surroundings. Diesel generators roared back to life, spewing acrid smoke into the sky. Soldiers walked away in silence, returning to their tasks.