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NEWS | July 25, 2017

Army Reserve participates in JMAX 2017

By Staff Sgt. Todd Pruden 205th Press Camp Headquarters

Army Reserve Soldiers are currently participating in Joint Mortuary Affairs Exercise 2017, here, training along with their counterparts from the active Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines. They are conducting every facet of their military occupational specialty, conducting real-world battlefield scenarios in the sprawling, wooded areas of Fort Pickett.

"JMAX's intent is to provide the Army Reserve a … force to be ready when needed," said 1st Lt. Jose Santos Santos, exercise planning officer with the 166th Regional Support Group out of Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. "This was a functional exercise and is now a part of a (combat support training exercise) and now we are going to integrate with CSTX."

A CSTX is a training mission typically conducted right before a unit deploys. It is intended to get Soldiers ready for real-world missions and to teach them the necessary tools they may encounter while down range.

"It's very important. If you've got Soldiers that are not ready to perform their duties, they won't excel in their mission, so … this is one of the most respectful jobs in the Army," Santos Santos said. "It's important because we are dealing with fallen heroes, our brothers. So, we need to train as we fight. We take this very seriously, our training."

Mortuary affairs has the difficult task of recovering, processing and sending deceased warriors home from the battlefield. Their mission is to ensure the remains and personal possessions of these service members remains intact until the Families take possession. Army Reserve Soldiers consist of most of the mortuary affairs assets in the U.S. Army.

"The best tool the Army has is a Soldier. For us, we call them brothers in arms, so we are brothers and sisters," Santos Santos said. "So, when you fall … we want to take you back home. We never leave a fallen comrade, a fallen hero behind, so that's our duty. If we don't … know where they're at, we’ll do search and recovery missions, we'll secure them and bring them back home … and we'll do that out of respect throughout the process."

Training scenarios conducted during JMAX consist of search and discovery of heroes from the point of death, receiving and processing the fallen from a casualty collection point, setting up and operating a personal effects depot and setting up and operating a theater mortuary evacuation point.

"We're crawling and we're going to walk and run into that exercise. It's very important to practice the unknown," said Sgt. Maj. Carlos Rentas, operations sergeant major with the 166th RSG. "The units come in and set up. They recover remains. They process remains and then the culminating event is a mass casualty (exercise) where they're going to have to do, move more than they've ever done before."

Rentas said the job these mortuary affairs Soldiers do is critical to the overall Army mission and the training these Soldiers are receiving is crucial.

"In the battlefield, we lose Soldiers. To recover the remains and return them home is very important and I think that's the major part of the exercise, to ensure that our Soldiers are taken home properly with the dignity and respect that they deserve for the missions that they do," he said. "The training that they receive here is not happening anywhere else. We have been a part of this exercise to help our Soldiers receive the realistic training that they need to accomplish their mission that they are in charge of."

The hope is that the mortuary affairs Soldiers receive the most realistic training and overcome the mental anguish they may encounter.

"I hope these guys get the proper training … because … once you do this, your mind changes. If you do it over and over, you can excel your skills," Santos Santos said. "The mindset, that's where it's going to get you. We hope that doing this process, we're going to try to do it as realistic as possible so they can actually go through that mental process so one day overcome that mental process.”

Santos Santos said that the overall goal of mortuary affairs Soldiers is to take care of and honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

"It's very humble. You are not only dealing with your brothers-in-arms that are down, but you are working with someone that will be delivered to their Families," he said. "And then you put yourself into those shoes and then imagine a father … their son, their daughter. We put ourselves in that situation, that's how important we take this job."