Mortuary specialist honored to serve

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
An Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations team member began his military service and focus on attention to detail as a C-141 crew chief in the early 80's. After being away from the Air Force for more than 20 years, Ed Conway is serving once again, this time as a mortuary specialist at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where he prepares fallen service members for return to their loved ones.

His transition from the aviation industry to the funeral profession began shortly after the funeral of his sister in law in 2006. Conway assumed the role of navigating the family through this and other deaths in the family. A funeral director asked him if he had ever thought of becoming a funeral director and Conway said the seed was planted. 

He began the required education and in 2008 became a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Connecticut.

In mortuary school, Conway said watching the movie "Taking Chance" resonated with him as an Air Force veteran and he felt it would be an honor to return to serve as an embalmer at the port mortuary.

Early last year, he left the civilian funeral service for a position as a mortuary specialist at AFMAO, where his primary mission and responsibility is to prepare the remains of fallen service members for return to their loved ones.

The work with his position here is different from what he was accustomed to in the civilian sector.

"There is more of a division of labor here at AFMAO with the port concentrating on the care of remains and our Mortuary Affairs teammates focusing on the families," said Conway.

As a civilian funeral director, there is a great deal of integration with the family throughout the process in addition to preparing remains. Here, there are dedicated teams to prepare, dress and casket the remains.

In addition to his role as an embalmer, Conway oversees the Dress and Restoration section, ensuring the fallen are dressed according to procedures and the family's wishes. He also serves as a technical expert for other branch of service liaisons and leads six deployed Airmen who support the mission.

"We have a dedicated staff of total force professionals who share a common goal of providing dignity, honor and respect in the care of our fallen," said Conway. "Our team's desire, although under unfortunate circumstances, is that we have served your family well and that our care of your loved one may aid or bring some measure of comfort to you."

Conway said his team of professionals spares no detail in each of their duties for the entire time they have a fallen member in their care. 

"I care for their loved one with the same compassion, respect and integrity that I would if he or she was my own son or daughter," said Conway.

Taking the position at AFMAO has been a dream of his, said Conway, who added he couldn't have done it without the encouragement and support he received from his wife and six children. 

"They have sacrificed a great deal relocating to allow me to serve, and I am grateful for them," he said. "I don't think that there is any higher calling for a funeral director than to serve our nation's fallen troops and their families. I am honored to have been selected to serve in this capacity."