Dignity, Honor, Respect: Reserve squadron supports port mortuary

  • Published
  • By Capt. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Dignity, honor and respect are more than mere words for two 512th Memorial Affairs Squadron Airmen here. 

It's a motto that Staff Sergeants Tracey Taylor and Christine Devera say they live every day, working here at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, the military's only state side mortuary. 

"These servicemembers gave their life to protect me and you, so by working here, I do what I can to give back to them and their families," said Sergeant Taylor. "This isn't a job that everyone can do - not everyone would want to do, but I love this job." 

She works in the All Around section, which augments all sections in the mortuary. Depending on the day, she can assist medical examiners and morticians with the process of identification, autopsy, embalming, uniform preparation and casketing of the fallen servicemember. 

"It's an honor to work here and prepare their remains with dignity and respect and get them home as quickly as possible to their families," said Sergeant Devera, who works in the Autopsy section and assists pathologists and histologists in gathering evidence used to determine the servicemember's cause of death. 

Both Air Force reservists have been working at the facility since January and will complete their rotations in May. They are serving their fourth tour since 2006. In civilian life, Sergeant Taylor is a full-time student and works as a customer service representative for Amerigroup Community Care. Sergeant Devera is also a full-time student and works as a chocolate advisor for Lindt Chocolates. 

Almost 100 Airmen are assigned to the 512th MAS, a unit of the 512th Airlift Wing, which is the only Air Force Reserve Command unit in Delaware. The unit is unique, because it's one of two AFRC units charged with the sole mission of preparing America's fallen for their final journey home, said Senior Master Sgt. Juan Hernandez, 512th MAS superintendent. The other unit is the 349th MAS, Travis AFB, Calif. The Air Force and Air National Guard do not have these squadrons. 

Other services units throughout the Air Force deploy Airmen to work in the mortuary, but the 512th MAS fulfills 60 percent of Reserve deployments to the Carson Center, said Sergeant Hernandez. 

Reservists have worked at the mortuary since 1991.With their augmentation, the mortuary staff can process up to 85 deceased members a day. Since the Charles C. Carson Center's establishment in 1955, between 50,000 and 60,000 men and women have passed through the center on their way to their final resting place. 

Before a servicemember can start work at the mortuary, they must attend a three-day training course that familiarizes them with the facility's operations and processes, followed by on-the-job training. 

"I didn't know if I would make it the first time I volunteered at the mortuary in 2006," said Sergeant Devera. "But, once you know what it's about, which is getting the fallen home to their friends and families, I got used to it." 

To cope with the realities of their job, both sergeants said they put their emotions aside; otherwise, they couldn't do what they do on a daily basis. Despite this, there are times when their emotions surface. 

"Participating in dignified transfers and saluting the fallen as they arrive here is touching," said Sergeant Taylor. 

"I get emotional at the send-offs, which is when we stand in a formation and salute the fallen servicemember as they are transported to a plane or vehicle for their trip home, " said Sergeant Devera. "When their families are there and they are crying, that's hard. My heart goes out to them." 

Dealing with such harsh realities gives Sergeant Taylor a renewed regard for life.
"This job will bring you closer to your family and make you appreciate your life more, because we have tomorrow," she said. 

Despite the job's challenges, Airmen such as Sergeants Taylor and Devera said they will continue to volunteer their service to the mortuary to honor America's men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.