Quiet professionals committed to honoring fallen heroes
August 19, 2011
by Christin Michaud
Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs
8/16/2011 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. - 30 U.S. fallen heroes and eight Afghans were given the dignity, honor and respect that they deserve Aug. 9, at a dignified transfer. Those Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen died Aug. 6 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.
That evening, three more fallen heroes arrived here for a dignified transfer. Two were Marines who died Aug. 7 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The third, a Soldier, was an Army Ranger who died of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire.
Unfortunately, there were nine more casualties of war this week. Some were the result of small arms fire. The others were from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle.
They were husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. They were Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. They were Active Duty, Guardsmen and Reservists. They all volunteered to serve their country. They fought together and they died together. They each paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
The responsibility and honor of preparing these fallen heroes rests on the shoulders of the staff at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs. This week, the staff here, a team of military personnel from all branches of service, civilians and contractors have honored 42 fallen heroes.
They are proud to do it day in and day out. It's a mission they carry out with dignity, honor and respect.
"We honor fallen servicemembers of all different services," explained Army Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Toro of the mission here. Toro is assigned here under the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, located at Fort Knox, Ky. "We pay respect to them regardless of branch of service or rank."
Toro has been supporting the mission at Dover for more than four years. He currently works in the uniform shop.
"I'm doing something meaningful," he said when asked why he extends his tour here.
His job gives him insight into the Soldiers who have lost their lives. In preparing uniforms, the patches and awards are a colorful reminder of their military service.
"I see the diversity on the field experience they have had in their careers," he said.
Army Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes, also a mortuary affairs specialist assigned to CMAOC, works in the uniform shop with Toro and agrees a Soldier's uniform tells a story. His job is to ensure every uniform is perfect whether a family will ever see it or not.
The same preparation goes into each Soldier's uniform regardless of who they are. He recently prepared a uniform for a Soldier from Puerto Rico which is also his home. The story of that Soldier is closer to his heart, he said, but he gives his uniform the same high level of attention he would to any fallen Soldier.
The group of quiet professionals who care for the fallen perform their tasks knowing their level of commitment and attention to detail is for the families.
The work of those professionals remains largely unseen, but they are committed to honoring the fallen.
Tech. Sgt. Eric Morgan, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, is the noncommissioned officer in charge of personnel effects. His role is caretaker for the last sentimental items families will ever see of their loved ones. It's a duty he and those before him don't take lightly.
Although he said it can be challenging at times to see a picture of someone's daughter they carried with them or a letter they were writing home, he does his best hoping it provides some sort of closure for the families.
Taking the time to ensure a wedding ring or rosary beads are in the best condition possible is one way Master Sgt. Trisha Price, deployed to AFMAO from the 60th Force Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., gives back.
"This is what their family is getting back," said Price. "The families are going to see it; I want to know I did the best job I could."
The 150 active-duty Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines as well as Guardsmen, Reservists and civilians, Armed Forces Medical Examiners and representatives from the FBI honor true heroes -- those who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country.