Dover Airmen perform reverse DT mission

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
More than 110 Airmen from the 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, are currently volunteering to support a unique mission.

The volunteers serve as carry team members for Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations' reverse dignified transfer mission for fallen service members returning to their final resting place. It is the last tribute and show of respect to the fallen who leave Dover by a contracted airplane adapted for the mission.

Prior to 2009, when the port mortuary was a flight under Dover Air Force Base's 436th Services Squadron, the 436th Aerial Port Squadron was responsible for all reverse dignified transfers. A team of deployers from AFMAO took on the responsibility for a couple of years before enlisting the help of the host wing for the unique mission.

Capt. Carter Brown, 436th APS, is the officer who manages the wing's volunteers.

Typically the wing point of contact for RDTs serves in that position for 6 to 9 months.

"I volunteered for an extra rotation due to extreme satisfaction with performing this most sacred mission," said Brown.

The captain has currently filled the role of coordinating a six-member carry team for each RDT for a year and a half. When available, he attends reverse dignified transfers, regardless of the time of day, day of the week or the season; and when he can't be there, he relies on his POCs from the four groups here.

The carry teams, he said, are comprised of two to four Airmen who are on standby from various groups for the mission each week.

"They perform the back end of the (Department of Defense's) most sacred mission, without error, with extreme devotion - every time," said Brown. "The RDT team conducts Dover Air Force Base's final salute to our nation's fallen heroes." 

It's a tribute they are honored to do regardless of any obstacles they may face.

"We are always chasing perfection," said 1st Lt. Samuel Clark, 436th Mission Support Group POC. "From cold hands and stiff muscles to ice on the ramp or runway, the mission still gets done. Those who step up to participate generally don't put their personal desires first."

The early hours and training during off-duty time doesn't hinder Dover Airmen from volunteering.

"I've never had problems getting volunteers," said Staff Sgt. Elaine Green, the 436th Medical Group coordinator. "People in our group are very excited to support such a vital and distinguished mission."

Maintainers shared the same sentiment.

"I'm on call 24/7 without any complaints," said Master Sgt. Wayne Birk, 436th Maintenance Group coordinator.  "This is an honor and a privilege, not a hindrance in any way. My heartfelt honor and respect go to all who I've carried and will carry." 

Brown said volunteers don't make the cut if they do not epitomize the Air Force core values, most notably service before self and excellence in all we do.

AFMAO's Tech. Sgt. Robert Fekken who serves as the RDT NCO in charge offers training for the volunteers at least quarterly or as needed. Carry team members must complete the training over the course of three days, mission pending.

"Having the wing perform the carrying for the RDTs gives us a larger pool of trained individuals to carry," explained Fekken.  "This makes the base a huge asset to the mission."

Fekken is at every RDT to ensure the aircraft is clean and the carry team, commanding official, branch of service liaison and escort are prepared.

"It has been an honor to perform this duty ... and work with some amazing Airmen throughout the base," said Fekken. "All the base personnel who volunteer to support this mission believe in this mission. A lot of them would be out for every mission if possible."

The mission they perform is less visible then when fallen service members arrive to Dover AFB for a dignified transfer. There are no camera teams or media on the ramp for RDTs, only these Airmen providing dignity, honor and respect to the fallen.

"The RDT carry team members are the unsung heroes," said Brown.