SSgt Kenneth Palmeri from the 127th Force Support Squadron tags the simulated remains of SSgt Darrayl Martin, also from 127th FSS, with identification information during field training exercise at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., Aug. 9, 2012. The members of 127th FSS’s training included setting up a field kitchen and tents for mortuary affairs as well as search and rescue purposes. (Air National Guard photo by TSgt. David Kujawa)
Members of the 127th Force Support Squadron carry the remains of a simulated casualty during a field training exercise at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., Aug. 9, 2012. The members of 127th FSS’s training included setting up a field kitchen and tents for mortuary affairs as well as search and rescue purposes. (Air National Guard photo by TSgt. David Kujawa)
8/14/2012 - SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- With a steady summer rain shower adding to the mood, Airmen from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base exercised perhaps the most serious and solemn of military duties, Thursday, Aug. 9. The mortuary affairs team conducted a search and recovery exercise as part of a week-long series of training scenarios to ensure that the 127th Force Support Squadron is prepared to respond to any duty they are called upon to perform.
"It is an aspect of our job that most people probably don't realize that we do, but ultimately, it is the most important job," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Palmeri, a member of the Services Flight for the 127th FSS at Selfridge.
As Citizen-Airmen assigned to the FSS Services Flight, Palmeria and others in his unit have five broad areas of responsibility: lodging, food services, fitness, recreation and mortuary affairs. That final duty means that when they deploy, Services Airmen are called upon to lead search and recovery efforts after any type of attack and are then responsible for preparing any human remains for their dignified return first to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and then on to their final resting place, typically the home town of a deceased service member.
"First of all, we make no assumptions about anything when we do this job," Palmeri said. "We work with experts who make identifications, with medical professionals who make their determinations. Things have to be done 100 percent right."
During the exercise at Selfridge, the Michigan Air National Guard Airmen had two of their own members role-play as personnel injured and killed in an attack. In the simulation, the deceased Airmen had to be located, first. Then, assessments were made as to the possible presence of any unexploded ordnance that could have been in the area and Security Forces personnel were notified to provide security as needed for the recovery team. The bodies were then transported back to a temporary morgue facility, where they were tagged and prepared for transport to the U.S.
"We work with a lot of players in the mortuary affairs role," said Master Sgt. Brian Ward, readiness NCO for the Services Flight at Selfridge. "There's explosive ordnance disposal, Security Forces, public health, medical and we have to work with the Civil Engineers on all the facilities issues. Given the environment that can be involved, it can be a lot more than the process at a local funeral home."
Ward said in addition to practicing the physical skills required to do the mortuary affairs job, the flight talks with Airmen about the mental health challenges that being on such a duty can present.
"It is something you talk about and try to make people aware of the mental health services that exist," he said.
Ward said the Selfridge Service Flight is fortunate to have a number of strong Airmen who are able to do a number of different tasks well, including preparing for mortuary affairs duty.
"We have a core of strong junior NCOs who take pride in what they do, Ward said. "That shows not only in exercises, but as they have deployed over the past few years."