AFMAO experts review mortuary course curriculum

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
A team of mortuary professionals from Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations recently traveled to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to review, revise and validate the Mortuary Officer and Technician course.

Col. David Kretz, AFMAO deputy commander, Trevor Dean, AFMAO Entitlements Branch chief, and Capt. Jason Christie, AFMAO Operations officer, joined Course Director Cathy Shepan, an instructor with Air University at the Air Force Personnel and Professional Development School at the Eaker Center for Professional Development.

The team, collectively offering years of services, mortuary and instructor experience, reevaluated the curriculum and to include latest changes in policy and procedures to the field and equip officers and technicians with the best knowledge possible before they are charged with this solemn duty.

They used previous class surveys and family feedback to evaluate the curriculum. In addition to the feedback, AFMAO's Mortuary Affairs Division logged all calls for a year, and noticed trends that helped direct the team enhance specific blocks of instruction, explained Dean.

"We routinely hear from students that this course is the best course they have attended with the Air Force," said Dean. "But, that didn't stop us from finding areas to improve and look for ways to make the training more meaningful and the material more enduring. Our younger officers and technicians are technologically more advanced and thrive in those environments so we have to change the way we deliver training to connect with them," said Dean.

The course, which is required for force support officers and airmen to become a mortuary officer or technician, is offered three to four times a year and averages 30 officers and 20 enlisted students as well as occasional civilians. While every FSS officer has exposure to mortuary affairs through their initial training, it is only through this course they can be certified.

The course rewrite, the first in two years, focused on better educating specific audiences.

"Understanding your audience and the intent behind the training is important and maintaining that focus on our goals keeps the training accurate and relevant," said Capt. Jason Christie, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations.

As a result of the course rewrite, the course will be split into two distinct courses in order to better tailor the training to the skill sets required of mortuary officers and mortuary technicians, said Christie.

"Being able to focus on officers and technicians individually is going to allow us to provide the skills necessary for each group and better equip them for the challenges they'll face in the field," said Christie. "We reorganized the sequence of blocks to better flow so learning was happening in the same sequence as a case would."

This allows students more time for certain focus areas. The team added a half day to the length of the course as well providing more hands-on training with the addition of case studies and practical exercises.

"The changes will add more hands-on experiences in order to enhance the learning environment," said Dean. "We will provide instruction and then have the students use what they've learned along with (Air Force Instructions) and other guidance to formulate responses. Some of the learning comes from interacting with their peers."

Having first attended the course in 2013 and later instructing four courses, Christie stressed the value of the scenario-based training. He said the course prepares FSS officers to be mortuary officers in a number of ways, but the hardest hitting, in his opinion, is when they bring in actors and actresses to play family members and the students have to brief them on entitlements and procedures as if they were a family who just lost a loved one.

"In the back of your mind, you know it's a simulation, but once the adrenaline starts flowing the reality sets in," said Christie. "Being able to put students in this situation before the real thing can prepare them for dealing with those emotions."

Although just a simulation, that and other blocks of tailored and hands-on scenarios and instruction gives students an opportunity to learn and practice in a setting without grieving families.

"As long as we keep our focus on providing care, service and support to Air Force families worldwide, we can meet any of those challenges and continue to prepare officers, enlisted and civilians to meet the needs of the families we serve," said Dean.