Chief of staff dedicates Center for Families of the Fallen

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The Air Force chief of staff dedicated the new Center for Families of the Fallen at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center here Jan. 6.

"For many of us, this dedication is a bittersweet event," said Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff.

"This center is emblematic of our genuine gratitude to the families of our fallen servicemembers. In an ideal world -- one that is universally committed to resolving disputes in a peaceful manner -- a Center for the Families of the Fallen perhaps would not be necessary," the general added. "But alas, it is, as all here know very well."

General Schwartz dedicated the center alongside Col. Bob Edmondson, the AFMAO commander. Dignitaries witnessing the dedication included Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph Biden; Delaware's congressional delegation of Sens. Thomas R. Carper and Edward E. Kaufman, and Rep. Mike Castle; Dover Mayor Carlton Carey; Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, the deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, and Lt. Gen. Loren M. Reno, deputy chief of staff for installations, logistics and mission support, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.

General Schwartz recognized Nicole Goc, whose husband was killed in a plane crash years ago, noting that her attendance was symbolic of who this center hopes to serve. Several military spouses, including Suzie Schwartz, Jodie Newton, Karen Reno, and Dana Edmondson also attended. In total, more than 100 people were on hand for the dedication ceremony.

AFMAO officials are charged with Air Force wide mortuary responsibility and operation of the Department of Defense's sole port mortuary, according to an AFMAO official. Center personnel ensure dignity, honor, and respect to the nation's fallen military members and offer the highest level of care, service and support to their families, the official added.

General Schwartz said the center represents a commitment by military leaders to care for fallen servicemembers and their families.

"Our most serious obligation is to lead in a way that minimizes the likelihood of losing a teammate," General Schwartz said, "but, when we properly honor our fallen, we must also properly care for the families.

"This center is one manifestation of our fidelity to this commitment, so that when families from all over the country come to receive their loved ones for the last time, they do so in a place that befits their grief, and can begin to offer them comfort, support, and the sincere thanks of a grateful nation."

While speaking to the media, Doctor Biden said she was proud to have such a facility in their home state of Delaware. She praised the initiative, saying the center will be a place of comfort for families "as they come to meet their fallen angels."

The number of families coming to meet their fallen warriors has increased since an April 2009 DOD policy change that provides aid to families attending dignified transfers of remains of their fallen military members.

As participation grew, Air Force senior leaders and spouses recognized that the facilities on Dover Air Force Base could benefit from some additional resources to execute this important mission. Previously the AFMAO chaplains and support staff shared a facility with base chaplains serving the Dover AFB 436th Airlift Wing and the Reserve 512th Airlift Wing.

An idea to transform a former base convenience store was conceived and a renovation contract awarded in the fall. Construction on the center began Nov. 9, 2009, and contractors completed the job within 60 days.

The result: a 6,000 square foot center that offers a comfortable and quiet environment with dedicated sitting areas for the families, as well as private rooms that can be used for counseling or meditation. The center will allow AFMAO mortuary affairs specialists, chaplains and mental health technicians to better assist families of the fallen, Colonel Edmondson said.

General Schwartz acknowledged the vision and hard work it took open the center so quickly, noting the dedication of everyone involved was a true "labor of love."

The center will play a part in helping the nation fulfill "its most sacred of obligations," he said, such that servicemembers can know "that their families will be cared for in the way that they would hope in the most difficult of circumstances."

Click here for dedication remarks by Col. Bob Edmondson, commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.