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Operating Location-Europe Airmen fulfill AFMAO mission overseas

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kaitlyn Maricle
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Delaware - Dover Air Force Base, Delaware may be the site of the DoD’s only port mortuary in the continental United States, but it is not AFMAO’s only operating location. To provide dignity, honor and respect worldwide to the fallen, AFMAO relies on operating locations in Europe, Japan and Hawaii.

AFMAO Operating Location-Europe is located at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and was established in 2010. The team at OL-E is responsible for coordinating the final leg of movement for all fallen service members from deployed areas of operation enroute to Dover for a dignified transfer and for ensuring the fallen and any escorts traveling with them are properly cared for during their short stay at Ramstein Air Base.

The two-person OL-E team works with the 721st Aerial Port Squadron’s Special Handling team, who coordinates all airfield movement of the fallen at Ramstein and provides the refrigerated storage location for remains. The OL-E team also works with the 786th Force Support Squadron Mortuary Affairs Re-Ice team at Ramstein to replace the ice inside transfer cases, as well as inspect and replace the flags draping the transfer cases.

“My job allows families to grieve the loss of their loved one and not have to worry about how to get their fallen Airman back home from an overseas location,” said Master Sgt. Angela Purington, AFMAO OL-E command mortuary affairs manager.

AFMAO OL-E also provides mortuary support to the seven main operating bases in U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces-Africa and serves as subject matter experts to support base-level programs. With fewer installations to support, the OL-E team can better meet training and resource needs and foster improvements for bases that may not otherwise receive support due to distance and time differences.

Kevin Smith, AFMAO Mortuary Affairs Division chief, previously served as the chief at OL-E between February 2020 and April 2022. He said one of the benefits of serving in OL-E was the ability to build partnerships with mortuary specialists throughout USAFE.

“There are benefits to the bases of having the AFMAO representatives at overseas locations – the base Mortuary Officer and Technician have two people dedicated to them that they can call with any questions,” he said. “From a professional level, we can also see firsthand the long-term developmental and training needs they have and we can work with them on a consistent basis to meet their needs and the needs of the families they serve.”

OL-E also oversees USAFE Honor Guard programs, which allows military funeral honors to be rendered to retirees and veterans even if they’ve moved to Europe.

“You may not really think that an honor guard overseas has a large role, but whether they’re stateside or overseas, the requirement to provide military funeral honors for retirees and veterans remains,” said Smith. “The case load for the OCONUS bases may be different but the honors provided must meet the same high standards.”

The OL-E mission is robust and calls for time-consuming work. For Purington, who will retire from the Air Force later this year, the opportunity to finish a long career in such sacred work will have a lasting impact.

“I have provided the assistance and compassion to help the families transition to a new way of life without a loved one,” she said.