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2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

MCAS BEAUFORT MCAS CHERRY POINT MCAS NEW RIVER
Mortuary Affairs: no tougher duty, no greater honor

By Sgt. Juan Vara | 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing | June 06, 2005

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AL ASAD, Iraq - Pictured here are the Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group.  They have one of the most difficult jobs in Corps.  Tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible, the detachment takes care of deceased coalition forces personnel and contractors in the Al Anbar province.  The detachment receives deceased personnel, whom they refer to as ?angels,? from the hospital here after medical personnel have exhausted all means to try to keep them alive or after conducting search and recovery operations in the battlefield.

AL ASAD, Iraq - Pictured here are the Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group. They have one of the most difficult jobs in Corps. Tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible, the detachment takes care of deceased coalition forces personnel and contractors in the Al Anbar province. The detachment receives deceased personnel, whom they refer to as ?angels,? from the hospital here after medical personnel have exhausted all means to try to keep them alive or after conducting search and recovery operations in the battlefield. (Photo by courtesy photo)


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AL ASAD, Iraq (June 6, 2005) - Sgt. Daniel H. Whitt, (right) native of Snellville, Ga., and Cpl. Joshua P. Himes, native of Newnan, Ga., both mortuary affairs specialists spread an American flag to honor fallen coalition forces personnel and contractors. The Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group are tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible.

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 6, 2005) - Sgt. Daniel H. Whitt, (right) native of Snellville, Ga., and Cpl. Joshua P. Himes, native of Newnan, Ga., both mortuary affairs specialists spread an American flag to honor fallen coalition forces personnel and contractors. The Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group are tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible. (Photo by Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis)


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AL ASAD, Iraq (June 6, 2005) - Sgt. Daniel H. Whitt, (right) native of Snellville, Ga., and Cpl. Joshua P. Himes, native of Newnan, Ga., both mortuary affairs specialists spread an American flag to honor fallen coalition forces personnel and contractors. The Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group are tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible.

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 6, 2005) - Sgt. Daniel H. Whitt, (right) native of Snellville, Ga., and Cpl. Joshua P. Himes, native of Newnan, Ga., both mortuary affairs specialists spread an American flag to honor fallen coalition forces personnel and contractors. The Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group are tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible. (Photo by Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis)


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AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Marines of Mortuary Affairs, Detachment Al Asad, Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group would like to never work. If they could have it their way, they’d spend the entire deployment bored out of their minds. “If we’re working something’s not right,” said Staff Sgt. D. D. Gunter, the detachment’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “That means Marines are dying.” Tasked with recovering, processing and evacuating deceased personnel to their families as expeditiously as possible, the detachment takes care of deceased coalition forces personnel and contractors in the Al Anbar province. Comprised mostly of reserve Marines activated to be trained in the mortuary affairs occupational specialty, they are one of the few Marine mortuary affairs detachments in Iraq. Though they prefer to keep their minds off of their line of work as much as possible, they are always ready. “When it’s time to go to work we do what we have to do,” said Gunter, a native of Meansville, Ga., who left his job as a SWAT team commander in the Atlanta area to deploy here. The detachment receives the fallen, whom they refer to as ‘Angels,’ from either the hospital here or following search and recovery operations on the battlefield. Chief Warrant Officer Bo Causey, the detachment’s officer in charge originally from Marietta, Ga., said they train weekly to stay sharp on some skills, placing special emphasis on search and recovery and convoy operations. “We’re working on reaching a proficiency level that will allow us to conduct a search and recovery in the least amount of time possible,” said Gunter. “A lot of the times a security element from the unit conducting the main mission comes with us, so the sooner we’re out of there the sooner that security element returns to the fight.” Once the Angel is in the detachment’s workspaces, personal effects are inventoried and the Angel is prepared for transportation. An U.S. service members receives full honors and the American flag is draped over the transfer case. Causey and Gunter said the support of personnel and aircraft in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) are paramount for the success of the detachment’s mission. As soon as someone in the detachment notifies the tactical air command center that an Angel is on deck the next KC-130 scheduled to fly out is redirected to transport. The Marines in the arrival and departure airfield control group stop all other incoming and outgoing flights and all activity on the airfield ceases. “There’s absolutely no movement, everything stops,” said Gunter. “That shows the level of respect the Marine Corps has for Angels. Everybody in the plane’s crew forms a line on the ramp of the aircraft and renders the appropriate honors.” If a unit in the Al Anbar province suffers the unfortunate loss of one of their Marines throughout their entire deployment, that’s a terrible experience that they will never forget. When this also happens the Marines in the mortuary affairs detachment see things with a different point of view. “The Marines here don’t get just a small taste of a combat loss, they see all of them,” said Gunter. “Very few people have seen what we see here, these are the direct results of combat operations. It can be very taxing on a Marine’s mind.” According to Gunter, these Marines get upset every time one of their fallen brothers-in-arms is received in their facility. “Everybody has a job to do in this war. These Marines might not be out there running through the desert, but they get to provide a lot of closure for a lot of families,” he said. “We’re not out winning the war, but we take care of those who put forth the final measure of devotion, which unfortunately, is the ultimate sacrifice.”


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