Airmen from outside career fields contribute to mortuary mission

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs
Providing dignity, honor and respect is what Staff Sgt. Rachel Gamertsfelder-Doane did for four months while deployed to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations here as a member of a dignified transfer carry team.

Sergeant Doane is assigned to the 802nd Security Forces Squadron at  Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. However, she, along with three others from career fields ranging from maintenance to public health, were the first Airmen from "outside specialties" to serve as part of a carry team for this sacred mission.

Typically, the carry team is composed of Airmen from the services career field who deploy to Dover AFB.  Each team consists of eight individuals who transfer the remains of fallen servicemembers from the transport aircraft to the mortuary when they arrive at Dover AFB as well as perform a reverse dignified transfer when the fallen servicemembers depart for their final resting place.

During the dignified transfer, the transfer case is moved from the aircraft to the dignified transfer vehicle with solemn, deliberate movements before being transported to the mortuary.

For Sergeant Doane, the experience has shown her the care and honor in full circle. She's been on the other side while deployed to Southwest Asia as part of a group who places transfer cases on aircraft scheduled for Dover AFB.

"I didn't know how much honor and respect goes into it on the other side," she said.

This is a career opportunity for her that most security forces Airmen don't get.

"I'm been very proud of everything I have been able to do," sheh said.

Staff Sgt. Chris Hill, a programmer assigned to Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph AFB, Texas, said he also felt fortunate to be part of this mission. Although at times it can be stressful, he said it was worth it.

The experience was a reality check for another Airman who deployed here.

"There are people doing stuff bigger than you," said Airman 1st Class Matthew Bokesch, a public health technician from the 27th Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Cannon AFB, N.M. "It's time to give something back."

The initial strength training can be grueling and the members of the carry team faced hot sunny days, many late nights and early mornings.

It was tiresome, said Airman Bokesch, but good.

"You become emotionally tied to it," he said.

Sergeant Hill has five years of base honor guard experience that helped prepare him a little for what to expect here.

What he wasn't prepared for was the emotion from families who come to witness the dignified transfer of a loved one. In his experience in the past, the people he was providing honors for were older and had lived a full life, he said.

The deployed Airmen trained, drove vehicles, steamed and folded flags and carried the fallen with dignify, honor and respect. They experienced something outside their Air Force specialty and they each left with something in return: pride from being part of a special mission.