Mortuary Affairs provides dignity, honor for the fallen
By Sgt. William BattleJune 21, 2016
FORT PICKETT, VA. -- After the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared on the battlefield, there will be those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. It is the mission of mortuary affairs specialists to ensure these Soldiers are given the proper respect and honor for all they have given and their families are given closure and peace of mind.
Since the Civil War, mortuary affairs specialists have been the unsung heroes of the Quartermaster Corps -- the supply and logistics arm of the military - by undertaking the solemn task of returning the fallen home to their families.
During Mortuary Affairs Exercise 2016 at Fort Pickett, mortuary affairs personnel are honing their skills. Yet, there is more than the practical process to mortuary affairs.
Those unfamiliar with the duties of this career field often have misconceptions about their duties. The occupation is greater than images of mortuary freezers and sterile autopsy tables. It may be best described with a line from the Army's Warrior Ethos that states "I will never leave a fallen comrade." It is the caring and understanding that provides the families of those who have lost a love one the closure they need during their time of mourning. There is much more than instrumentation and clinical practices. There are people that bring comfort in times of great difficulty.
Pfc. Mauricio Sueros of the 1019th Quartermaster Company from Staten Island, New York, said, "Not everyone will be able to handle the pressure because it is very heavy mentally."
Certainly anyone who has chosen this specialty has placed themselves in a position to witness the tragic results of combat loss on a daily basis would have something at the core of their being to perform its tasks.
Their duties range from collecting human remains in hostile territory or difficult terrain, then transporting, processing, preparing and dressing the remains among many other actions leading up to the funeral. The all-encompassing nature of the job with its particular challenges can be stressful enough to take a toll on its personnel, which is what makes those who choose to stay in this occupation a special type of Soldier.
Pfc. Sherman Martin, 1019th Quartermaster Company, describes accomplishing the end of each case as "Feeling good that we gave our battle buddy their last hoorah; bring them back to a country that is proud of them for putting their lives on the line in defending it."
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