DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Assuming the somber duties of commander in chief, President Donald Trump made an unannounced trip Wednesday to honor the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a weekend raid in Yemen.
Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. combat casualty since Trump took office less than two weeks ago. An 8-year-old girl was among 30 others killed in the operation on an al-Qaida compound, and three other U.S. service members were wounded.
Trump's trip to Delaware's Dover Air Base was shrouded in secrecy. The president and his daughter, Ivanka, departed the White House in the presidential helicopter with their destination unannounced. A small group of journalists traveled with Trump on the condition that the visit was not reported until his arrival.
Marine One landed at Dover shortly before a C-17 believed to be carrying Owens' remains touched down. The president was expected to meet with Owens' family, which requested that the visit and the dignified transfer of the Navy SEAL's remains be private.
Former President Barack Obama lifted a ban on media coverage of the dignified transfers, though families may still request privacy. A spokeswoman at Dover said about half of families choose to allow media coverage.
Owens joined the Navy in 1998 and was the recipient of two Bronze stars, a Joint Service Commendation and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, among other honors. In a statement following his death, the Navy Special Command called Owens a "devoted father, a true professional and a wonderful husband."
His death underscores the human costs of the military campaigns Trump now oversees. Far fewer troops are serving in combat now than in the wars Trump's predecessors led in Afghanistan and Iraq, but thousands of Americans remain in hotspots around the world.
The president's trip to Dover comes as he begins weighing whether to reshape U.S. military activities around the world. As a candidate, he vowed to be tougher on the Islamic State and at one point said he would be willing to send up to 30,000 U.S. troops to fight the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. Last week, Trump gave the Pentagon and other agencies 30 days to submit a plan for defeating the Islamic State.
Sunday's pre-dawn raid — which a defense official said was planned by the Obama administration but authorized by Trump — could signal a new escalation against extremist groups in Yemen. More than half a dozen militant suspects were among those killed. The operation also took the life of the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and U.S. citizen who was targeted and killed by a drone strike in 2011.
As a candidate, Trump said he would be willing to "take out" the families of terrorists in order to root out extremism. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no Americans "will ever be targeted" in raids against terror suspects.