Welsh honors two Airmen from AFMAO during speech

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III recognized two team members from Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations during a speech Sept. 18, at the annual Air Force Association Conference near Washington, D.C. Master Sgt. Antoinette Worthey and Senior Airman Shemiel A. Christopher each received standing ovations from a packed house here at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center for the jobs they do at AFMAO day in and day out.

Welsh said he and his wife, Betty, toured AFMAO in August shortly after he became the 20th Air Force Chief of Staff. He was so impressed with what he saw that he wanted to recognize Worthey and Christopher for the incredible work they perform.

Welsh said he had been to Dover AFB for dignified transfers before becoming the CSAF, but had never toured AFMAO to meet the personnel who work there.

"And so I went to meet them," he said. "I had heard they were great, but I had no idea how great they were."

Worthey, the noncommissioned officer of Dress and Restoration, briefed Welsh during his visit to AFMAO. She explained that her team's job is to wrap the remains that require it and to then dress the fallen before they are returned to their loved ones.

"You deserve this," Welsh said to Worthey.

Worthey has deployed 10 times to the mortuary and worked several mass fatality cases in addition to those who have died in the USS Cole incident and Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Welsh told the audience Worthey's job and the job of the Dress and Restoration team is to make sure the uniforms are perfect before they leave and for the remains -- if they can't wear a uniform -- be perfectly wrapped.

The general asked the audience, "Can you imagine doing this on 10 deployments?"

Worthey's section once had the remains of a fallen service member who could not wear a uniform, the general told the audience. To wrap remains of this type, the team uses multiple layers. In between each layer is identification, so if anything ever happens during the shipment, the remains can always be identified. Typically, dog tags are used.

"As they finalized the preparations for this fallen hero to head home," he continued, "they found out that he'd been promoted posthumously. Now nobody ever unwraps the body. No one will ever see the remains after they leave the mortuary. But Sergeant Worthey and the team unwrapped every layer, reprinted new dog tags and reinserted them with the proper rank just because that's the way it should be."

Welsh said the work at AFMAO is technically and emotionally difficult. Worthey leads her team with pride and professionalism because she believes this critical job must be done right.

"This is just a special, special person and a remarkable Senior NCO and I wanted you to have the chance to say thanks," Welsh said.

Worthey, who lives in Dover, is assigned to the 512th Memorial Affairs Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit.

"I learned about this unique mission at Dover through a next door neighbor who was assigned to the 436th Services Squadron," said Worthey. "It was then that I decided I wanted to be a part of this rewarding mission."

With little time to waste before reaching the reservist age requirement, she enlisted before reaching age 35. She had that birthday during basic training.

"It was my worst birthday ever," she said. "Since then I've had a gratifying career providing dignity, honor and respect for our fallen and their families. In my 15 years of service, the mission at AFMAO is by far the most meaningful thing that I have done."

Worthey and Christopher were both coined during Welsh's speech.