New York State Funeral Directors Association

U.S. Military service members risk their lives on behalf of their nation every day.

Many don’t make it home alive.

That risk is never forgotten – and none who give their lives are sent back home alone.

Honors are bestowed upon Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who lose their lives overseas at many points.

These and all other U.S. Military casualties are flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they are taken into the care of U.S. Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations.

On its website, this U.S. military unit provides an overview of steps taken to make sure fallen soldiers are treated properly.

Honoring fallen military service members isn’t a function of the nation’s executives or elected politicians.

It’s a responsibility of fellow military service members – one they take seriously.

According to the Air Force, fallen service members are flown either directly back to the United States or they are first taken to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and then flown to the U.S., landing at Dover Air Force Base.

All are brought into the care of the U.S. Air Force Mortuary Affairs Division – this unit is like the military’s funeral director.

Like funeral directors in the U.S., members of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Division have a similar mission, evinced in their mission statement:

To fulfill the nation's sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families

This division of the Air Force isn’t just dedicated to the care of members and family of today’s casualties, but yesterday’s as well.

They fulfil these tasks for those who died in earlier wars and whose remains are discovered and identified years later.

DIGNIFIED TRANSFER

When the plane lands at Dover Air Force Base, remains of the military service member are carried off the plane by fellow members of the military unit that service member represents.

Army soldiers are carried by fellow soldiers. Air Force Airmen carry fallen Airmen, and so on.

The detail is led by a senior-ranking member of the fallen service member’s branch of military service.

These soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines take specific steps and carry the fallen service member from the airplane to a vehicle that’s bound for the mortuary on the base.

The Dignified Transfer at Dover Air Force Base is a process family members are able to witness if they wish.

Family members are welcomed at the Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base.

This facility is one of more than 70 dedicated to military service persons’ family.

Most of them are made available to family members of service members undergoing treatment at a medical center or other hospital.

A SACRED COMMITMENT

About 70 members of active duty military branches and Guardsmen and Reservists are deployed to work at the Mortuary Affairs Operation Center each year.

This is in addition to another 100 stationed at Dover and roughly 50 civilians working as embalmers and in other roles.

Like the nation’s funeral directors, they are available all day long throughout the year.

Several steps take place at the facility.

Service members are brought in and scanned with an X-ray to check for explosives.

They are photographed and dental impressions are made for identification -- work performed by those in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base.

A great deal of time is spent on personal effects.

Service members staffing the mortuary take personal items like photographs, wrist watches or jewelry and clean them.

These items will become cherished keepsakes for family members.

Lab tests, autopsies to find the cause of death, cleaning and embalming takes place prior to dressing the fallen service members.

Uniforms are perfected prior to dressing.

The mortuary staff has a complete stock of full uniforms for all branches of the military.

Service members are dressed or, if not possible, the uniforms are draped over them in the casket.Airman First Class Rontera Powell, a personal effects specialist, stands next to a simulated casket being prepared for shipping at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, Dover Air Force Base, Del. Airman Powell also participates in the transfer of the fallen heroes. The transfer team members honorably escort transfer cases of fallen heroes into the Mortuary Affairs Operations Center from the transport aircraft. Airman Powell is deployed from the 43rd Force Support Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

An American Flag is pressed at the shipping section and waiting to drape the casket.

This flag is given to the next of kin during the funeral.

Service members are accompanied home by a member of their respective branch of service.

The remains of fallen service members are always escorted.

A dignified transfer takes place each time the service member’s mode of transportation changes – honors are given by the military escort.

At final destination airports – near the hometown of the fallen service member -- Honors are given by two military members.

These can be the escort and another uniformed member of the military.

They will salute as the service member is transported into the hearse of the hometown funeral director who will arrange a full military honors funeral.

People can learn more about the steps taken to care for fallen military service members at the following links:

U.S. AIR FORCE MORTUARY AFFAIRS OPERATIONS: The military unit which receives military service members who are killed in action: http://www.mortuary.af.mil/

TRAGEDY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR SURVIVORS: A national nonprofit veterans service organization which officers care to family members grieving the loss of a service member: https://www.taps.org/

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY: The National Cemetery where many fallen service members are buried which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/about

 


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association