Custom Dover cremation casket offers alternative for families, funeral professionals

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Alvarado
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations



Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations evolves to meet the needs of service members and their loved ones. One of those needs involves the desire to be cremated. 

“There were major evolutions during my eight years at AFMAO and beyond, and each experience led us to the program it is today,” said Trevor Dean, Officer of the Secretary of Defense program analyst, who was the Port Mortuary director at the time and had just moved to Dover AFB from the Air Force Mortuary Headquarters in San Antonio at the Air Force Services Agency.


The need for a redesigned cremation case started with funeral homes communicating the difficulty in using caskets originally made for burial. Dean, along with James Quinn, AFMAO logistics manager, began the search for a customized casket to accommodate the growing trend in the funeral industry.


“We set up a meeting in York, Pennsylvania,” said Quinn. “They designed a regular-sized, all-wood cremation casket, the ‘Dover,’ and the ‘Dover 1X Grande.’”


The custom casket has only 16 ounces of metal opposed to 16 pounds in standard wooden caskets previously used. 


At the time, Quinn was a technical sergeant, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of uniforms and logistics. Over time, he has fostered AFMAO’s relationship with vendors, and the turnaround time for caskets is now typically between 24 to 48 hours.


“Once Trevor [Dean] got the approval through the Pentagon and the branches of service, I went through contracting and my local vendor,” said Quinn. “Our casket representative helped us input them into the Blanket Purchase Agreement so I could order them overnight.” 


The BPA describes the scope of what is permissible to order from vendors. Quinn worked to add the new cremation caskets to the approved list of purchasable items. Since his retirement, he has continued his work within the mortuary in a civil service position, responsible for maintaining AFMAO’s warehouse, equipment and logistical supply orders for all operational needs. He also provides training for deployed members on a six-month rotation.


“We have never been short on caskets, chemicals or supplies to run the process,” said Quinn. “As long as we continue to have a good rapport with our vendors, we can do whatever we need to adjust to modern-day needs.”


Their passion for this new venture wasn’t always matched in the mortuary enterprise, but Dean and Quinn recognized there was a potential for a far-reaching impact beyond initial hesitation.


“This was a departure from the way the services have conducted business for many years, so there was some resistance from individuals within the mortuary affairs community at first,” said Dean. “This was mainly due to the perception that a cremation casket would not meet the standard or look different.”


Despite the reluctance, the new caskets would improve the cremation process in terms of efficiency and environmental impact. Because the various military branches required casket contracts directly with the manufacturers, the new requirements were communicated through the local contracting office. 


“We were very clear that the casket had to meet or exceed the standards in place at the time and have the same appearance,” said Dean. “This idea had to be briefed to the Central Joint Mortuary Affairs Board, a decision-making body, which includes members from all the services that recommends changes to the mortuary affairs policy at the Department of Defense level.”


Dean and Quinn’s determination to secure and facilitate the Dover cremation caskets, highlights a need to constantly improve any process, not just within the mortuary, but in the DoD. Their efforts underscore the DoD’s commitment to helping our military members, their families and survivors through quality-of-life policies and programs. 


Dean carries this determination with him into his current endeavors, where he is still impacting the mortuary mission on a broader scale. In his current position in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, he works in the office responsible for all policy matters related to casualty, mortuary affairs and military funeral honors across all branches of service.


“One of my current duties is revising the DoD standards and mortuary forms,” said Dean. “I can tell you that working a revision can be time-consuming, intensive and involves representatives from all the services to ensure we receive their input and coordination.”


Dean went on to explain how the overarching message of this massive coordination can endure over the years. He encourages others to step out beyond their current capabilities and improve their area of responsibility.


“Don’t ever get caught in the paradigm of ‘that’s how we have always done it,’” said Dean. "Challenge the status quo. Every Airman and civil servant in that mission can, and should, call a pause to make sure what they are doing is safe, efficient and right by the families.”