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NEWS | Oct. 7, 2015

Army Reserve Mortuary Affairs Soldiers support Bakersfield coroner’s office

By Maj. Gregg Moore 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - At the request of the Kern County California Coroner’s office, eight mortuary affairs specialists and two mechanics from the Army Reserve’s 387th Quartermaster (Mortuary Affairs) Battalion, from Los Angeles, California, deployed two Mobile Integrated Remains Collection Systems (MIRCS) to assist in processing remains Sept. 7-18, 2015 The extra help from the proficient soldiers and mobile equipment gave the Coroner’s office a chance to make much needed upgrades to their permanent facilities.

The mortuary affairs soldiers gained real-world practice with the Coroner’s office investigators and autopsy technicians. This field of work, which is clearly not for most people, demands a meticulous eye and a strong stomach.

Sgt. Lawrence Thomas, Platoon Sgt., said, “The traits required to do this type of work are the right combination of upbringing in the home and what soldiers have been exposed to.”

Mortuary Affairs Specialists, with the Military Occupational Specialty of 92M, perform a number of duties relating to deceased personnel. This includes recovery, collection, evacuation and establishment of tentative identification. They also inventory, safeguard and evacuate personal effects of deceased personnel and serve as recovery specialists at the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. In addition to the ten weeks of basic training, these soldiers must complete seven weeks of Advanced Individual Training and continue with on-the-job training.

The Coroner’s office made their various specialists and technicians available for cross training. This cross-training and support mutually benefited the Army Reserve and Kern County.

The county autopsy technicians taught the Army Reserve soldiers to collect fluid and tissue samples. They took blood from arteries and urine from bladders. In one case, human remains were found a home following a week of 110-degree temperatures. The hot weather accelerated the rate of decomposition. The soldiers processed the severely maggot covered remains without getting sick and were able to recover the liver for a toxicology screen.

Two soldiers joined a coroner technician following a traffic accident involving a pedestrian. The victim exited his vehicle to help someone else who had been in a collision. In a horrible turn of events, he was struck by multiple vehicles hon the highway. The soldiers assisted the coroner with processing the remains at the scene.

Due to short resources, the coroner technicians were behind on filing cold-case files. Soldiers assisted in reviewing the files and evidence. They helped separate unsolved from the solved cases. Helping to connect the dots in at least two cases which could then be closed by the agency.

The Mobile Integrated Remains Collection Systems (MIRCS) ran 24-hours a day. This highly deployable, self-contained modular frame can handle up to sixteen remains at a time. Soldiers ensured the system maintained a consistent temperature for the entire mission.

During this mission, soldiers worked with remains from accidents, suicides, homicides, a drowning, and three infants. This difficult, but vital work, exposed the mortuary affairs soldiers to cases they would ordinarily only have a chance to read about. They are now much more prepared for their mission in a forward deployed environment.