Dignified transfer mission for fallen Airmen diverts to New Castle ANG Base

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
Six Airmen were honored in a dignified transfer at New Castle Air National Guard Base, Delaware, Dec. 23, 2015, when the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations dignified transfer mission was moved from Dover Air Force Base to New Castle as a result of weather.

Diverting the mission to New Castle was exercised in March 2015 when runway construction at Dover began limiting runway options, but this was the first time a dignified transfer was conducted at the Delaware ANG base.

Practicing the scenario in advance proved beneficial when the mission was diverted. 

"We did not realize how much went into the behind-the-scenes preparation for a DT mission," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Ceselsky, 166th Operations Support Squadron, airfield manager at New Castle.

The team was tasked with identifying spaces for briefings and families as well as considerations for distinguished visitors and working with key players from around the installation.  

"The preparations and work that went into the testing of this concept back in March of this year, to include flying a C-17 mission to New Castle to test the parking, clearances and support to the families, really set the stage for success when it came time to divert," said Col. Dan Merry, AFMAO commander.

Capt. Kyle Kodalen, AFMAO dignified transfer officer in charge, agreed having rehearsed in March was beneficial. The layout of the base and the flightline for DT operations and the support of the team made the transition as seamless as possible.

"New Castle went above and beyond to make everything run smoothly," said Kodalen, who oversees the prebriefs, flightline set up and carry team, as well as calling commands for the solemn movement honoring the fallen. "We know a lot of work went on there before we even showed up at the gate."

In addition to Ceselsky, who worked the diversion plan for transfer, the Delaware ANG provided security forces, public affairs and other personnel as well as airfield management support and use of their flightline and facilities.

The Guard team made sure their facilities were ready for the families and ensured necessary vehicles were available for the motorcade, said Ceselsky. They also coordinated with the airport authority for the influx of aircraft, waivers and the local customs service for the C-17 bringing the fallen Airmen back to American soil.

"Their senior leaders were there in full support knowing that the NCOs and junior officers were ready to execute under any conditions," said Merry.

The Loffel Room of the Delaware ANG Wing Headquarters Building was redesigned in a matter of hours to resemble the Center for Families of the Fallen at Dover AFB where families gather before departing for the flightline to witness the dignified transfer of a loved one.

Drivers from the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron transported a truckload of furniture from the Great Room at Dover's base chapel with the assistance of the chapel team and deployers.

There were six areas set up to accommodate the number of attending families, explained David Sparks, chaplain in charge for the dignified transfer.

The Friends of the Fallen were out in force at New Castle, said Sparks. The organization is a non-profit group of volunteers whose main focus is to provide hospitality to families of the fallen.

"They added the finishing touches," said Sparks. "They brought grief material, comfort shawls, blankets, stuffed bears, lamps, plants and refreshments."

While a divert is not the optimum scenario, it made it possible for the families to attend and it was done as smoothly and with as much care and support as possible, said the chaplain.

In addition to families and senior leaders, more than 200 unit members from the Office of Special Investigations, the 105th Security Forces Squadron, Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York, and the New York Police Department gathered to show respect to their fallen comrades.

Honor and dignified were the two words Ceselsky used to describe the dignified transfer at New Castle. He said it was an extreme honor to have been able to assist with coordinating the DT.

"The DT mission, in my opinion, was flawlessly executed for having short notice to divert into the Delaware ANG," said Ceselsky. "I truly believe we demonstrated the true meaning of Team Delaware."

AFMAO's commander agreed.

"There are so many aspects of teamwork that go beyond the dignified transfer itself," said Merry. "At the end of the transfer ... it was apparent that Team Delaware came together in a seamless fashion to accomplish this sacred mission."