DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. —
Brig. Gen. Kathleen A. Cook, Headquarters U.S. Air Force director of services, learned firsthand what makes Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations tick during her maiden visit to the unique agency.
In visiting with AFMAO Airmen July 27, 2016, Cook peeled back a distinct layer of the service's career field and she witnessed the work 3M Airmen do in support of the military's mortuary mission.
"You provide the touch points for our Airmen -- dining, lodging the gym," she said, describing key aspects of the service's mission in supporting base operations by feeding, housing and keeping airmen fit. "And then when you get to Sergeant Brown's section and he talks about taking heroes home, this is just unbelievable."
Staff Sgt. Everett Brown, the AFMAO departures section NCO in charge, where fallen service members and civilians are positioned with care into the caskets for return to their families, was described by the services director as just one of the nearly 100 service members and civilians who make up team AFMAO, and who serve the important role of caring for the fallen.
"When you walk into an organization like this and see the things that you all are doing," she said, "you make us doggone proud."
Cook said the resiliency programs at AFMAO, such as weekly mental-health training sessions, are a key part of the agency's mission because junior and some seasoned Airmen are called on to support the mission in ways that are not for the faint of heart.
Col. Dawn Lancaster, AFMAO's commander, acknowledged the uniquely-tough nature of the work her Airmen perform.
"If we have a mass casualty, such as an aircraft crash or a helicopter crash, we will bring them back to assist the civilian experts," she said. "We will bring them back -- the 3Ms -- so we can ensure the remains are cared for properly."
During Cook's first visit to AFMAO, she participated in a resiliency session called "Pizza and Conversation." AFMAO personnel listened to a song and discussed the lyrics as a means to relate to other Airmen and civilians who perform similar solemn tasks within the tight-knit unit.
With a slice of vegetarian pizza in her hand, the service's director said she couldn't think of a better way to connect with teammates than over pizza, music and conversation -- all part of the training to keep Airmen in a tough and solemn job talking through their feelings.
Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Turner, Chief enlisted manager of the services career field, said whether they were in lodging, at the dining facility, gym or at the port mortuary, all services Airmen have the important and tough job of supporting the Air Force's big picture.
"The whole entire time you're a 3M -- you're a big piece of the Air Force," Turner said. "Without us, they won't eat, they won't be fit and they won't get lodged."
Clapping her hands vigorously, Turner acknowledged the total force nature of Team Dover, including the 512th and 436th Airlift Wings, which support the AFMAO mission. "That round of applause was for you and them."