Matt Metschke: A path paved to AFMAO

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jayden Ford
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs

In tragedy, pain and sorrow, Matt Metschke saw an opportunity to give dignity, honor and respect to the highest degree. Thirteen fallen service members lay before him. Where most people would turn away, he knew he was right where he needed to be – using the opportunity he worked his whole career to create to bring peace in humanity's darkest hours.


Metschke, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Case Management Branch chief, said he knew since he was young that he wanted to be in the business of helping others, with his journey inevitably leading him straight to AFMAO.


“In high school I thought I was going to be a teacher and coach football, but decided to make the switch over to something I was really interested in – mortuary affairs,” said Metschke. “So, I decided to start off my journey working in the civilian funeral profession.”


Chasing his goals required Metschke to complete mortuary school and acquire certain certifications that came with a high price tag. This was the determining factor in his decision to join the Army as a mortuary affairs specialist in 2001.


“As a mortuary affairs specialist in the Army, we conducted search and recovery operations mostly involving disaster recovery of human remains,” he said.


Almost immediately after joining the Army and completing training, Metschke would find himself on the front lines of the deadliest terrorist attack the United States has ever seen.


“About six months after I came into the military, I was deployed to the Pentagon the night of the 9/11 attacks,” Metschke said. “I spent about two weeks helping to recover fallen civilians and service members who did not make it out.”


After his time in the Army, Metschke said that as he searched for what was next for his life, he remembered a place he had once longed to be – AFMAO. His sights were set, but it wouldn’t be as easy as he thought.


“The first thing I did was try to find an opening, but there’s not very many of those in my profession, especially in government service,” he said. “The job openings are also not advertised in many places, so they are hard to find, which led to me having to kind of take the long way into getting a position.”


Metschke spent many years carving his path to AFMAO – working as a cemetery director for the Department of Veteran Affairs National Cemetery Administration and as a mortuary director overseas.


“I spent three years working for the National Cemeteries until a position opened up overseas with the Air Force,” Metschke said. “I spent another three years at Yokota Air Base, Japan working at the 374th Force Support Squadron’s mortuary and then a position opened up at AFMAO, giving me the opportunity to transfer to the job I had worked my whole career to get.”


Metschke’s years of experience now provides AFMAO with a strategic advantage – consolidating a wealth of knowledge across the military and civilian mortuary enterprise to enhance operations daily.


“Matt’s previous experience provided the foundation critical to him leading an enterprise-wide mortuary affairs case management response capability across the Department of the Air Force,” said Col. Chip Hollinger, AFMAO commander. “His demonstrated ability to resolve issues and develop teams will further enhance mortuary affairs operations across the globe – this is exactly the level of support our installation programs deserve as they care for our fallen and their families.” 


As the Case Management Branch chief at AFMAO, Metschke now oversees case assignments, is the service liaison for the Air Force when a case is to be sent to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and supervises three case managers that are assigned to different regions of the United States.


Among the many fallen he has supported, Metschke said the most memorable mission he has supported was providing dignity, honor and respect to the 13 fallen members from Kabul, Afghanistan.


“No matter the situation, we have the opportunity to make it better in a sense of bringing some healing and comfort to our family members that we serve out of all of the chaos that comes with these kinds of operations,” Metschke said. “It takes a village and to be a part of returning these service members back to their families was an honor.”


Now having worked here for two years, Metschke said his expectations are exceeded every day he comes to work.


“My job is to provide dignity, honor and respect to our fallen and care, service and support to our fallen service members' families,” he said. “When you walk into this place, you realize this is the nation's mortuary and every day I come to work, I have a feeling of immense pride knowing that I play a role in such an invaluable mission.”