JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. –
Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve’s 246th Quartermaster Company, a mortuary affairs unit stationed in Puerto Rico, spent several weeks here preparing for one of the most solemn duties a Soldier can perform.
“We bring closure to those family members who’ve lost a loved one,” explained Capt. Alexander Ruiz, 246th QM CO commander. “We owe them closure, so we make sure that we bring those heroes back home.”
The training here focused on mission-essential tasks that included those common to all Soldiers, such as Military Operations on Urban Terrain, as well as those specific to mortuary affairs. In a theater of operation, their mission is to search, recover, tentatively identify, and coordinate evacuation of remains through a structured evacuation system.
“The search-and-recovery portion…is part of our train-up to meet our mission-essential task set,” Ruiz said following training Aug. 24. “We’ve just completed that portion of the training and will move to a mortuary affairs collection point where the remains get processed, then to a theater mortuary evacuation point which is the final destination before leaving theater to Dover Air Force Base.”
Ensuring dignity, honor and respect to fallen service members – and care, service and support to their families – is not something Pfc. Dayvel Santiago, a mortuary affairs specialist with the 246th AM CO, takes lightly.
“This is serving as an experience so you’re prepared for the mission when it actually comes,” she said. “Here, if you make a mistake, you can correct it, you can move forward from it; but when you’re mobilized, there’s no time for mistakes – you’re actually dealing with someone’s family member.”
As a mortuary affairs specialist, Santiago draws upon specialized training, as well as respect and compassion, to handle the remains and personal effects of Soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty.
“Honor, dignity and respect,” she reiterated.