Dignity, Respect and Reverence: Bringing our Heroes home
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- In a third-floor classroom, a handful of mortuary affairs and unit supply specialists wait to begin a slideshow. The phrase 'death by PowerPoint' sarcastically bounces its way around. When Sgt. 1st class Adan Flores wakes up his computer to start the presentation, the mood changes. The first slide is a photo focused on a flag-draped casket secured in an aircraft. The casket is lit by daylight, with several others behind it cloaked in shadow.
This is the introduction to Mortuary Affairs Training and Certification, held at Yongsan Garrison and Camp Humphreys, South Korea, from July 9-10. Flores created the class to introduce unit supply specialists to the equipment and supplies each unit should have on hand to support the mortuary affairs mission. Another purpose of the class was to discuss the implementation of Company Level Evacuation and Recovery (CLEAR) training with the mortuary affairs liaisons of each brigade.
Sgt. Dimitry Razell, hailing from Prince George, Va., the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, mortuary affairs liaison, is well-versed on the attention to detail required for the job.
He says mortuary affairs specialists have two primary missions. First, to consolidate remains and personal effects at collection points like the Mobile Integrated Remains Collection Systems in order to fill out intricate forms. The second mission is to quickly and accurately inventory, identify, and repatriate those Soldiers and their belongings back to the United States.
Prior to joining the Army, Razell started his career in the medical field as a pediatric nurse. After that, he worked in a nursing home. When he joined the Army, he decided that the most logical progression of his career would be to work within mortuary affairs.
The group recounted stories of their deployments and reconnected. Many of them have been deployed together, sometimes more than once. Between active duty, National Guard, and Army Reserve components there are just a few thousand mortuary affairs Soldiers to go around.
Under noonday sun and sticky heat, the group talked about the stigma that comes with their job. How a trip to the dining facility could often and quickly go from routine to awkward, when other Soldiers asked them their occupation.
"You just try not to say anything about work. Because whenever we'd mention that we were mortuary affairs, some of them (Soldiers) would just turn around and walk away," said Razell.
After catching up, the group headed to the motorpool to see a demonstration of the MIRCS, in action.
"There are so many components. Thousands," said Razell while demonstrating how to open up a MIRCS, and get it ready to operate.
The MIRCS is nearly the size of a large metal shipping container. On either side it expands out to make it as wide as it is long. In the center is a row of refrigeration systems, where remains would be preserved until leaving the mobile collection point.
"It's almost like a switch," said Flores while opening one of the refrigerators to show its interior. "At work, you just have to complete the mission. And that can take a toll. Anyone who says it doesn't bother them, or they're used to it, is in the wrong place."
MIRCS, CLEAR teams, and the tools necessary to sustain them are just props without the proper training. With it, they are vital mobile resources in the search, recovery, and return of Soldiers to their Families. As direct counterparts to mortuary affairs, supply specialists have a special role in supporting that mission. Their role lies in training with and understanding the equipment that mortuary affairs will employ.
Similar to many of the military occupational specialties on the peninsula, the future of mortuary affairs at the 2nd Inf. Div. is all about training. Soon, 2nd Inf. Div. mortuary affairs liaisons will be leading CLEAR training in order to prepare Soldiers in the most proficient tactics of personnel search and recovery.
"When we're out there, we're not working for some colonel or sergeant major," Flores said about the importance of providing this training for supply specialists, and CLEAR training to Soldiers in every company level unit. "We're not working for the Army, either. We're working for that Soldier's Family, to get them home and show them the dignity and honor they earned."