FORT LEE, Va. – An Army mortuary affairs unit here is preparing for its first overseas deployment in nearly six years.
The 54th Quartermaster Company is one of only two active duty mortuary affairs units in the Army (the other is the co-located 111th QM Co.). It is planning to send roughly half of its personnel to various locations in Southwest Asia sometime next month.
“Our mission will be to operate collection points across the (U.S.) Central Command Theater,” said Capt. Ashley Hayes, 54th QM Co. commander.
Collection points are abbreviated mortuary affairs operations primarily designed to fulfill requirements in field environments. The Central Command, also called CENTCOM, is a U.S. Combatant Command with an area of responsibility comprising four million square miles, stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan.
Unit members, nicknamed Sentinels, are scheduled to replace Army Reservists currently performing MA missions in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The deployment is scheduled to last six months.
The 54th QM Co. completed its last overseas mission in 2016. Additionally, it supported mortuary operations in New York City during the initial wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020.
Many troops on the current unit roster have never deployed, but several noncommissioned officers can count time served in war zones, said its top enlisted Soldier.
“Bottom line, the company is well-trained,” said 1st Sgt. Jerome J. Gisclair. “You can expect that we’ll be there and we’ll be successful. This is not a new mission for the company.”
Sentinel Soldiers frequently train in field environments and regularly visit morgue facilities in Richmond to better prepare them for what they might experience, said Gisclair.
“There is consistent training on mortuary affairs operations,” he said. “Our Soldiers are up to the task.”
Both Hayes and Gisclair assumed their current positions earlier this summer. Gisclair has 18 years of service and has been deployed three times. Hayes is a Medical Service Corps officer who has completed a rotation in Korea but has no MA experience, which the 27-year-old said is not a concern.
“I for a fact know my first sergeant has my back,” she said, describing Gisclair as a subject matter expert. “He knows the ins and outs of mortuary affairs, and I feel extremely confident with him by my side.”
The 54th QM Co. will support a wide array of operations in a region with critical U.S. interests. At least 20,000 U.S. troops are stationed throughout Southwest Asia, according to an American University report.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Sentinels and its Fort Lee neighbor and sister unit the 111th QM Co. alternated deployments to the Middle East on a six-month basis. A large number of unit Soldiers deployed as many as six times.
The 54th QM Co. is a subordinate unit of the 10th Transportation Battalion, 7th Trans. Brigade (Expeditionary), Joint Base Langley-Eustis.