Policy permitting media access for dignified transfers two years old

  • Published
  • By Maj. Richard Komurek
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs
Two years ago, on April 6, 2009, the dignified transfer of a fallen service member with media in attendance took place under new policy directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The policy, issued on March 25, 2009, sponsors family members wishing to attend and empowers the primary next of kin to allow or disallow the presence of media for the transfer. The presence of family and/or media at dignified transfers serves to honor the sacrifices made by fallen servicemembers and DOD civilians and to help families and hometown communities grieve and pay their respects.

"Our mission is to bring fallen service members home with dignity, honor and respect and to provide their families care and support," said Col. Thomas Joyce, commander of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations. "Providing a respectful return for the fallen and supporting their family members is both solemn and humbling and is felt deeply by all of us here at Dover who are honored to take part in this special mission."

From April 6, 2009, to April 6, 2011, a total of 1,001 dignified transfers have taken place at Dover AFB and 4,225 family members and friends have attended the transfers. Family attendance for dignified transfers has been high, with 78 percent of families opting to attend in accordance with DOD policy permitting government-sponsored travel for the primary next of kin and two additional family members.

Families have authorized public media access 56 percent of the time, with approximately 660 media representatives attending 562 dignified transfers. Military media coverage, which films the transfer and provides the family with a DVD copy, was selected 31 percent of the time. Only 12 percent of families elected to have no public or military media coverage of their dignified transfer.

To handle the increasing number of family members and media attending dignified transfers during the past two years, AFMAO officials have expanded services to provide even more comprehensive care and support to families of the fallen. Highlights of the support services developed are:

-- Families of the Fallen Support Team - Comprising 30 chaplains, mental health professionals and funeral directors to assist families visiting Dover AFB for dignified transfers;

-- Friends of the Fallen - A volunteer organization dedicated to helping families visiting Dover AFB with child care and other family needs;

-- The AFMAO public website at www.mortuary.af.mil - The site provides fact sheets and information about the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs and dignified transfers;

-- Center for Families of the Fallen - Opened on Jan. 6, 2010, this facility gives families private meeting rooms, a kitchen and children's play rooms in a home-like atmosphere. The CFF also serves as the base of operations for members of the Families of the Fallen Support Team, who assist the families during their time of grief

-- Fisher House - In November 2010, the Fisher House Foundation dedicated a home to host the families of the fallen during their stay at Dover AFB. The house features nine suites which can accommodate more than 30 family members at no charge to families visiting Dover AFB for a dignified transfer

** Memorial Garden - Currently under construction through the sponsorship of the Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs. The garden, which is scheduled for completion in May, will provide grieving families with a tranquil outdoor meeting place

Since AFMAO was established on Dec 15, 2008, the Air Force has been responsible for mortuary affairs operations which cover all Department of Defense casualties of war. However, the detailed and comprehensive care and services provided to fallen service members from all branches of service, DOD civilians and their family members requires a dedicated joint team representative of all DOD components.

"Our mortuary affairs operations are supported by approximately 75 permanent party military and civilian employees and more than 60 deployed service members from all branches of the military," said Cory Larsen, chief of operations support. "Our operations within AFMAO are truly a joint effort as we all work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to uphold our nation's sacred commitment to honor her fallen who are killed in combat operations."

The second anniversary of the DOD guidance permitting media presence at dignified transfers serves both as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that service members and DOD civilians are making for the defense of freedom and the responsibility that all share to honor the fallen with respect and care for the families of the fallen in their time of need.