FORT PICKETT, Va. –
The Mobile Integrated Remains Collection System is one tool being put to use during this exercise and is one not often used by these service members, as it is primarily used for field use, in locations away from forward operating bases. Lately, mortuary affairs service members have conducted their mission near FOBs.
"The MIRCS are very important. That's a piece of equipment that actually processes the remains," said 1st Lt. Jose Santos Santos, exercise planning officer with the 166th Regional Support Group out of Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. "So, if a fallen hero goes down in battle, or in a (combat support hospital) they end up going to the … mortuary affairs collection point. Without that, we wouldn't be able to do our job."
The MIRCS is a self-contained, fully-enclosed workspace deployed in the field for mortuary affairs service members to process human remains and personal articles of those fallen within a single space. The system allows for the storage of 16 remains in addition to space for processing and administrative work. Remains are kept between 34 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, while meeting mortuary standards for air quality.
"So, we need to preserve … that brother in arms that has fallen in as the best condition as possible," said Santos Santos. "That plays a big part. It has an A/C. It has a certain (temperature)degree … we keep it really cold so we can preserve the (remains) until he gets to the final destination, which is their home."
According to Spc. Steven Maldonado, a mortuary affairs specialist with the 311th Quartermaster Company out of Ramey Base, Puerto Rico, the MIRCS can take one to two hours to set up, depending on the number of Soldiers assisting, which typically takes between five and eight Soldiers. He said the systems are very mobile.
"Basically we can move it everywhere and anywhere," he said.
MIRCS serve as part of a mortuary affairs collection point on the battlefield and are usually located in the vicinity of a field combat support hospital. Once a doctor at the CSH produces a death certificate, the remains, certificate and the personal effects of the deceased are moved to the MIRCS for processing. The first step in the process is scanning the remains for unexploded ordnance. Then, the deceased's identity and death certificate are verified to the best of the ability of the mortuary affairs service members. Next, the fallen warrior's personal possessions are accounted for and processed.
"We not only work with our fallen heroes, we also deal with … personal effects, their property," Santo Santos said. "If they have a wallet, we make sure that wallet, that picture, that watch is going back to their loved ones. We take everything very seriously."
The fallen are then cleaned and placed into a morgue within the system, which includes refrigeration to preserve the remains for the extraction from the battlefield.
Spc. Christopher Myers, a mortuary affairs specialist with the 311th QM Co., said the fallen are treated with highest honors at MAC-Ps.
"Any deceased member that comes through this area is going to become a higher rank," Myers said. "They will outrank everybody because he has paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for that, he is the highest ranking, so, he will be treated with dignity and respect and honor as a service member of the United States Army."
The remains are then flown to Dover, Delaware, where they are identified, if necessary, prepared and finally flown to their hometowns, into the possession of the Family.
"For me, it's an honor to work in this job," Myers said about his job. "It brings me honor because I'm working for that member and for the United States Army Reserve, for the Family of that service member and it's actually a great experience because we have the opportunity to bring that fallen hero back home where he belongs, with his Family, and bring him the honors that he deserves."
Maldonado said that while his job can evoke different emotions, he is proud to do it out of respect.
"To me, it really makes me feel sad because we are working with the Fallen Soldiers, we know what they did. It makes me feel honorable because I know that they gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation," he said. "So, it's like mixed feelings, but I know that they sacrificed all they have for our nation, so it makes me feel pleased that I can do this for them and for their Families."