Mortuary Affairs: Family working for Families
Story and photos by Sgt. Gaelen Lowers
3rd Sustainment Brigade
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — There are many stories on the news about Soldiers in harm’s way. Many talk about a tragedy that has befallen a Soldier while out on a convoy. Some talk about the Families and friends of that Soldier and the how the unit pushes onward.
What one may not see are the people in the background who dedicate their work to making sure Soldiers receive a proper farewell and the Family has a chance to say goodbye. These are the men and women of mortuary affairs.
“This is the last step for fallen Soldiers to get back to their Families,” said Sgt. Agustin Soto-Miranda, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the mortuary affairs collection point with the 111th Quartermaster Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Manati, Puerto Rico, native. “We, as mortuary affairs, make sure that happens. We take care of the final trip the Soldiers have back to their Families, and we make sure they receive the proper respect.”
It is the job of the mortuary affairs team to provide closure for Famililes, said Staff Sgt. Natalie Goulet, the liaison between the 111th Quartermaster Co. and the 13th CSSB mortuary affairs sections and a St. Paul, Minn., native.
Soto-Miranda explained the importance of mortuary affairs. During the Vietnam War. There were mass graves that contained the remains of unidentified U.S. Soldiers and their Families were never given the opportunity to pay their proper respects, he said.
“I don’t think that’s right,” Soto-Miranda said. “Those Soldiers gave their lives for freedom, and I think they deserve more respect.”
Although not always a pleasant job, all of the Soldiers said they believe in the work they do, and said they make a difference.
“This is a job that we chose,” said Spc. Alexander Olivieri-Rodriguez, the assistant noncommissioned officer-in-charge with the 111th Quartermaster Co. mortuary affairs team and an Arecibo, Puerto Rico, native. “We know this is a tough job. We make sure every step is taken care of, the flag is ironed as best as possible, and the remains are presentable so when the Soldiers return to their Families, the Families can say, ‘I got somebody up there in the Army taking care of my Soldier.’”
The Soldiers of the 111th Quartermaster Co. understand the concept of Family very well. In fact, they consider themselves a Family.
“This job honors every branch of the armed services,” said Pvt. Romeo Shear, a member of the processing team with the 111th Quartermaster Co. mortuary affairs section and a Sacramento, Calif., native. “It’s a very small (military occupational specialty), so we’re a tight group.”
“I come and visit as much as possible, because these guys are my Family,” Goulet said, who had just transferred from the 111th to the 13th CSSB. “When I found out that we were deploying at the same time, I got really excited because I would be back with my people.”
Each member of this “Family” has the same goal, Olivieri-Rodriguez said.
“The Family members are waiting,” he said. “They are waiting to see their Soldier one more time before they say goodbye. We don’t work for any NCO or sergeant major; we are working for the Family members so that they get that chance.”
(From left) Spc. Christopher Lane (from left, a processing team leader with the mortuary affairs section of 111th Quartermaster Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Pittsburgh native; Spc. Delayna Certo, a shipping and admin specialist with the section and a Modesto, Calif., native; and Spc. Spring Meyer, a personal effects processing team leader and a Rochester, Minn., native, iron an American flag May 31, demonstrating part of the procedure after a casualty is brought to the section at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gaelan Lowers