Career field choice brings joy, honor to reservist

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
As one of 45 personnel currently deployed to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware to support the sacred mission for Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Staff Sgt. Earl Simmons said he feels blessed and grateful to be one of the few individuals who get a chance to perform this mission.

The deployment is the first to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs for the reservist assigned to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.

He had an opportunity to attend mortuary training here years ago so he had a brief overview of what to expect.

It was his love of food that ultimately made it possible for him to be here.

Simmons enlisted in the Air Force in 2007 as a services specialist, because he knew he liked food and liked cooking, he said.

In the summer of 2009 he transitioned from active duty to the Reserve as part of the palace chase program. After becoming a reservist, Simmons later decided he wanted to attend culinary school.

"When I actually started my classes, I knew that it was definitely what I wanted to do with my life," said Simmons.

He graduated from culinary school in the spring of 2013 and in his civilian job works as one of several chefs at the Charleston Country Club.

"I enjoy trying new things to make," Simmons said. "Being inventive is a key trait to have for any chef to succeed. It's also a good feeling to be able to create something and have your customers/patrons who are eating it, be amazed and really enjoy your food."

His favorite is southern cuisine, but Simmons said he also makes Asian dishes as well.
"Anyone has the ability to cook," he said. "Don't be afraid to try new recipes and items that you have never made before. It is something that takes practice but you will get better in time. Time and experience will give you the skills that you seek eventually."

His commitment to his work as a chef holds true for his work at the mortuary as a services specialist which encompasses food, lodging, fitness and mortuary support.

Mortuary is one of the areas of the services career field.

"Sergeant Simmons has shown great initiative and leadership skills while deployed here," said Tech. Sgt. Shon Steed, NCO in charge of departures for AFMAO. "He approaches every task with a positive attitude and is willing to go above and beyond while completing the mission."

In Simmons' downtime here, he works on the transfer cases the fallen arrive in to make sure they are in good order.

"I'm one of the head trainers when it comes to teaching others how to put new handles on our transfer cases as well as putting in insulation," said Simmons. "That way, when we do send them back downrange, it will be easier and more secure to use if they are needed."

When he is not working on transfer cases, his primary duty here is in the departures section, the final stop before the fallen leave the mortuary for their final resting place.

"I help make sure that everything from the size of their casket to the silver on their uniforms is 100 percent and good to go," he said.

He also serves on the dignified transfer team to receive the fallen when they arrive at Dover.

"Personally, to me it's a very special and humbling experience," said Simmons. "It helps remind me that life itself can come to an end at any time. So with that reminder, I try to aim high in completing as many of my goals as soon as possible."

For anyone with a goal of pursuing a career in cooking, Simmons suggests they find the closest culinary school, enroll and absorb as much as possible from the instructors, but remember to continue to cook and experiment at home.

Whether preparing a meal for a customer or caring for the nation's fallen, practice makes perfect.

"I feel that the work we do here helps aid each family during their grieving stage," said Simmons. "I want to make sure their sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are displayed in way that is honorable and courageous because of their decision to put service before self."