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Feature Stories

NEWS | Sept. 3, 2019

Caring for the Fallen

By Sgt. Ashley Breland 184th Sustainment Command

Returning fallen service members home with dignity and respect is the primary job of a special group of Soldiers.

“We are tasked with the responsibility of making sure that the fallen are not only processed in theater, but to also make sure they have made it to Dover Air Force Base properly,” said Maj. Carmetta Maupin, 184th Sustainment Command, serving as the 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s Theater Mortuary Affairs Office (TMAO) officer in charge.

A mortuary affairs specialist is involved in the entire process.

“There is someone in the office around the clock, ready and prepared, to receive the initial contact concerning fallen Soldiers to make sure we are able to get the process started as soon as possible. The shorter the delay, the sooner the families will receive their loved ones,” said Maupin.

"We have two teams of Soldiers that rotate in and out every week, and one team is just as good as the other," said Sgt. 1st Class Alejandro Villarreal, 311th Quartermaster Company. "Rotating the Soldiers helps keep everyone vigilant because some days are longer than others."

Deployments for mortuary affairs specialists are usually six months long, a necessary step to maintain healthy teams.

“This is a job that is not glorified and you need to have it deep inside of you for you to be able to deal with the loss of life of our fallen, some times, it can even be someone you know,” said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Berry, 184th Sustainment Command.

One of the final steps before the fallen departs for home is to drape the human remains transfer case with the American flag.

"The flag is the first impression the family will have when the fallen is returned home. We inspect every flag for stains and rips. After inspection, the wrinkles are hand ironed with three separate irons, one for each color,” said Staff Sgt. David Rodriguez, 311th Quartermaster Company.

The process is meticulous, and only flawless flags will be accepted.

“We are trained to treat our heroes with respect and once we have put that flag on them, that means that we have taken care of them — and without a doubt, we did it with much pride,” said Rodriguez.