AFMAO hones processes as mission evolves

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
This is the final article in a series of three about the evolution of the mortuary mission since the media policy changed in 2009. This article is about how the mortuary mission has evolved. The first article was about the media coverage of dignified transfers and the second was about how support for families has changed at Dover.

In late 2008, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, was created in response to a change in the media policy surrounding coverage of dignified transfers.

The Air Force's mortuary affairs programs were streamlined into a unit that provides a single voice to Air Force families, Air Force leadership, other Services and the Joint community on all mortuary matters.

In 2011, AFMES, originally in Rockville, Maryland, and the Joint Personnel Effects Depot, originally at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, relocated alongside the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs providing a more streamlined process.

The relocation, along with recommendations from an investigation in 2010 and panel of public-health and funeral-service experts, prompted AFMAO to more clearly define roles and responsibilities in partnership with AFMES.

"Our commitment to the fallen and their families has never wavered," explained Col. John M. Devillier, AFMAO commander. "We are continuing to take decisive steps to improve our processes."

Before, personnel from AFMAO and AFMES would work together and be involved in different aspects of remains processing and preparation. Now there are clearly defined roles for when remains are under AFMES or port mortuary jurisdiction.

The personnel effects of fallen service members which were once inventoried, cleaned and prepared for the families by mortuary personnel are now handled exclusively by JPED.

Another change was the switch from a local carry team for Air Force casualties to the Air Force Honor Guard at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., aligning the Air Force with the other services who use their lead honor guard teams like the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, and the Marine Corps carry team from 8th and I, the oldest Marine Corps Barracks in the heart of D.C.

Kevin McGarrigle, AFMAO mortuary technical operations chief, has seen the mortuary mission evolve since he began supporting it in 1999.

Once nestled away in the information technology office, McGarrigle is now part of AFMAO's operations center which became fully functional in 2013, streamlining communication between Command, Control and Communication, administration, branch of service liaisons and technical operations.

The operations center was the result of an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century rapid improvement event to improve internal and external communication.

Originally designed to accommodate AFMAO's daily operations, it also has the ability to ramp up for large mass fatality incidents with offices and work stations for up to 48 personnel, said McGarrigle.

It allows for chaplains, the host wing leadership, command post, security forces, public affairs and logistics to be centrally located during a mass fatality with a video wall heads-up display where information from all functional areas working within the center can be viewed.

"The wall can be manipulated to display video feeds from multiple sources within the center which provides great, incident-based flexibility," said McGarrigle. "It gives me satisfaction to know we're helping the war effort by helping those that died for us to be reunited with their loved ones as quickly as possible."

The most recent change to the organization based on a recommendation from the Abizaid panel was in reference to the permanent command structure and functional relationship for AFMAO. AFMAO became a Field Operating Agency May 1, aligning it directly under Headquarters Air Force.

The new construct combines operational and personnel decisions under one command with mission execution authority by the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force.

Transitioning to a FOA allows for Air Force leaders to have direct control when contingency situations warrant immediate action.

"This permanent command relationship allows for a direct chain of command to the most senior Air Force leadership, further underlying the success of our no-fail mission," said Devillier.

The Air Force's senior mortuary specialist, Trevor Dean, AFMAO Mortuary Affairs entitlements branch chief, expects the transition to a FOA will be beneficial for mortuary affairs as AFMAO continues fulfilling its scared mission of caring for the fallen and their families.

"I believe it may put into motion changes that will allow a broader reach and function for mortuary affairs in the near future," said Dean. "This might mean more flexibility for the staff, ease of making changes across the mortuary enterprise and providing published guidance for all our activities."