Mortuary personnel enhance knowledge of human bones at osteology course

  • Published
  • By Jason Minto
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

Four members of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations attended the comparative osteology course at the University of Tennessee Knoxville Forensic Anthropology Center.

The comparative osteology course covers a hands-on approach to learning human versus non-human skeletal systems. It provided an immersive and educational deep dive into identifying human osteology. The course is designed for students and law enforcement but AFMAO’s mortuary specialists and mortuary officers charged with participating in recovery operations attended the course to further prepare them for their role in the mortuary mission.

During this three-day course, students learned to identifying features of human and animal bones, from the structure, texture, and weight features that can help determine if the bone is human compared to non-human.  

“I've learned how to identify all 206 bones and 32 teeth of the human skeleton, in both complete and fragmentary state,” said Mable Justice, AFMAO mortuary specialist.  “I've also learned anatomical position of skeletal remains.”

The members from AFMAO who attended are morticians and mortician officers. 

The knowledge gained from the course furthers expeditionary recovery efforts, helping AFMAO personnel become more self-sufficient in this realm of classification. The class also enhanced their observational skills and improved self-assurance in distinguishing remains from regular objects like leaves, rocks and tree branches.

“Search and recovery are part of the 38F (Force Support) career field so it's important to have as much experience and knowledge as possible in case we are called upon as subject matter experts,” said Capt. Lyndi Minott, AFMAO Operations Support Division chief.

AFMAO strives to be a forerunner in recovery efforts across the Department of Defense.  This course is one of multiple efforts to expand expertise.

“This course has helped prepare me to be a better subject matter expert in recovering remains for the Glacier operations that take place in Alaska,” said Capt. Laura Lanier, AFMAO Mortuary Affairs Division deputy chief.  “I feel more confident going into this year’s search and recovery operation with determining if the remains we are picking up on the glacier are in fact human. This skillset will help offset the absence of medical examiners on-ice this year who would typically answer questions or determine human versus non-human remains.”

Lanier and Justice are both scheduled to support Operation Colony Glacier this summer and will have the opportunity to put their new training to practice when they travel to Alaska for recovery efforts in June.