FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. – One of the only mortuary affairs units in the active U.S. military was inactivated during a ceremony May 12 at Green Auditorium, Army Sustainment University.
The 111th Quartermaster Company cased its colors during the event at Bunker Hall, ending 17-year run in its latest reincarnation.
Nicknamed the Guardians, it was reactivated here in 2005 to join its sister unit – the 54th QM Co. – in efforts to address increased mission requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers who serve in mortuary affairs units are charged with the most sensitive duties in all the Armed Forces – recovering and processing remains of service members and others.
The two Fort Gregg-Adams-based units were the only two mortuary affairs elements in the active Army.
Since the 2005 reactivation, the unit has proved its mettle to combatant commanders, “continuously providing world class support across the continuum of operations,” said the 111th’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Tometrius Greer, 10th Transportation Battalion, 7th Trans. Brigade, based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
The Guardians alternated numerous rotations to Southwest Asia with the 54th QM Co. over the course of 10 years. They included support for operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve. They also had hands in humanitarian efforts following hurricanes that slammed New Orleans in 2005 and earthquakes that struck Haiti in 2010.
During the past decade and amidst wanning wars in the Middle East, the unit has been far less active. Nonetheless, Capt. Anthony Farmer, the unit’s commander, said unit members stood on its reputation and continued its programs of preparation. He was thankful for the efforts of platoon leaders and sergeants and Soldiers, who he encouraged to “strive to do your best and seek positive energy.”
Following the ceremony, former 111th Soldiers reflected on the unit’s legacy as well as that of all mortuary affairs Soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Jarrett Ransom, now a 54th QM Co. Sentinel, said mortuary affairs is one of the Army’s smallest communities and one of the most dedicated. He shed more light on those making up the community.
“It’s not too often you come across those who have experienced death in the ways we have,” he said. “With that, we lean on each other -- way more than the average Soldier. At the end of the day … I’m always going to have their back and they’re always going to have mine.”
Antwon Shaw, a retiree, drove halfway across the country to be present for the event, feeling he could not afford to miss it.
“I just wanted to bring this full-circle,” said the freelance photojournalist, who held Guardian status in 2005 and was also a member of the 54th. “These two units have been my life. This is my family.”
Shaw said mortuary affairs Soldiers have strong bonds due to the unique challenges they face together.
“Everything we do comes from pure love,” he said. “A lot of us came into this field not knowing what it was, and some came into this field not quite sure. It was not long until we realized we were working with people who genuinely wanted to provide closure for the loved ones of fallen heroes.”
Retired Staff Sgt. Fernando Ramos felt that love the minute he stepped foot into the 111th.
“When I first came here in 2007, the 111th became my home,” he recalled. “The way they embraced and groomed me, I felt like it changed my life in so many ways.”
In 2011, Ramos moved to the Military Police Corps and was later medically retired.
“It was a very hard transition, but because of all the help from good people along the way, I was able to succeed. It was the family here, and it’s a big part of my life.”
Col. Clarisse Scott, the second 111th commander, said her experiences in mortuary affairs moved her to become an advocate for the career field. She currently serves with the Pentagon’s J7 staff and commanded of the 262nd QM Bn. on Fort Gregg-Adams.
“Once you understand who they are,” she said, “then you support them, embrace who they are, tell the world who they are and what they bring to the fight … and they embrace you more, building upon the family foundation.”
The “family foundation” will live on with the 54th QM Co. All former Guardians have been reassigned to the sister unit, a mortuary affairs element with an even longer and more storied history.
The 111th QM Co. was constituted in 1936 as Charlie Co., 96th QM Bn. It was redesignated in 1942 as Charlie Co., 96th QM Bakery Bn.
In 1943, the unit was reorganized and redesignated 111th QM Bakery Co. The 111th was redesignated once again in 1967 as the 111th QM Co. It was inactivated in 1973 at Fort Hood, Texas, (now Fort Cavazos).