AFMAO conducts first dignified transfer divert exercise

  • Published
  • By Veronica Aceveda
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations conducted a dignified transfer divert exercise March 19 in collaboration with the 166th Airlift Wing  at the New Castle Air National Guard Base, Delaware.

The mission involved up to 60 total force members executing a contingency DT plan at another location.

"We hope this is something we will not have to do, but it's something we must be prepared to do," said Capt. Matthew Frebert, the exercise DT officer in charge during the carry team's in brief at New Castle.

Cory Larsen, AFMAO's chief of operations, later explained the importance of the drill.

"In the event there's some type of weather issue or another situation which precludes an aircraft from landing at Dover (AFB) due to the runway construction, the aircraft can be diverted to New Castle," he said. "Today, we're transporting all our capabilities here to see how it works - including a simulated family in a surrey, driven by Dover's (Logistics Readiness Squadron)."

Three months of planning led up to this dry run, but initial dialogue regarding an alternate DT location began last summer, said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Celesky, New Castle ANG's airfield manager and the 166th AW's liaison for the exercise.

His team of guardsmen assisted with various aspects of the exercise's sequence of events as well as other logistical considerations such as staging areas for the families, distinguished visitors and parking plans.

"The Delaware Air National Guard is very proud to assist our Dover Air Force Base partners with this noble mission," said Col. Donald R. Bevis, 166th AW vice commander. "It is imperative that the families of the fallen are supported to the best of our capabilities. It is our honor to assist in keeping this critically important mission in the great state of Delaware."

The coalition team involved in conducting the divert dignified transfer for the exercise included civilians and active, reserve and guard service members from the Air Force, Army and Air National Guard.

"This exercise represents the benefits of maintaining close operational ties with our Total Force partners both here at Dover and at New Castle," said Col. Daniel F. Merry, AFMAO commander. "We will build upon the lessons learned and relationship forged from this event, so we can continue to successfully accomplish our 'No Fail' mission of taking care of the fallen and their families."

In addition to the essential participants of a dignified transfer, AFMAO's exercise team also included several subject matter experts from their respective fields to ensure every detail was covered at the alternate location, approximately 45 minutes north of Dover.
These members included a 436th AW protocol specialist, a contracted military family life counselor and five-time AFMAO deployer Senior Airman Omar Hall, who has served as a carry team member more than 100 times.

Near the flightline, where the fabricated DT was scheduled to take place, Hall provided some coaching to first-time AFMAO deployer Senior Airman Marcus Wesley, who has served as a carry team member three times. Both Hall and Wesley are reservists deployed from the 512th Memorial Affairs Squadron.  

Another AFMAO reservist on site for the exercise was Senior Airman James Arredon deployed from Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey. His charge for the operation was as a marshaler, assisting the driver of the families of the fallen in parking their vehicle.

"It's not the most glamorous job, but I'm proud to do it," he said. "And, I would volunteer for it every time."

While most of AFMAO's members are in tune with the dignified transfer mission, the mock DT served as a first-time experience for most of the guardsmen involved with the exercise.

"I felt very honored to be part of such a professional and sacred event in which loved ones and family members are cared for and for those who have fallen," said Chaplain (Capt.) Susannah Tulloch, 166th AW chaplain. "Participating in this exercise was extremely helpful in understanding how AFMAO leadership sees the importance and weightiness of their mission and the role of the chaplain."  

In addition to the chaplains on site for the exercise, AFMAO members from its departures, dress and restoration and public affairs sections fulfilled their roles associated with a DT.

There are a lot of moving pieces," said Frebert. "So, it's important to test our abilities to ensure we carry out the same dignity, honor and respect no matter where we may be diverted to."