The primary mission of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations is to fulfill the nation's sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families. A solemn dignified transfer of remains is conducted upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del., to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country.
A dignified transfer is the process by which, upon the return from the theater of operations to the United States, the remains of fallen military members are transferred from the aircraft to an awaiting vehicle. The remains will then be transferred to the mortuary facility located at Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Dover AFB, Del. The dignified transfer is not a ceremony; rather, it is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team composed of military personnel from the fallen member's respective service. A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. A senior ranking officer of the fallen member's service presides over each dignified transfer.
The sequence of the dignified transfer starts with the fallen being returned to Dover AFB by the most expedient means possible, which typically includes a stop at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. It is the Department of Defense's policy, and AFMAO's mission, to return America's fallen to their loved ones as quickly as possible. Once the aircraft lands at Dover AFB, service-specific carry teams remove the transfer cases individually from the aircraft and move them to an awaiting transfer vehicle. The vehicle(s) then transport the fallen to the mortuary facility for positive identification by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and preparation for their final resting place.
In March 2009, the Secretary of Defense announced a change in policy that, upon consent of the family of the deceased, allowed media access to cover dignified transfers; the policy went into effect April 6, 2009. The only dignified transfers that will be open to media coverage, with family approval, are those personnel who die in the line of duty supporting current operations. The privacy and desires of the immediate family receive the highest consideration at all times.