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NEWS | Aug. 22, 2016

Mortuary affairs exercise provides Soldier’s skill set to honor fallen heroes

By Sgt. Quentin Johnson 211th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

In the midst of the summer heat in the woods of Virginia, US Army Reserve Soldier Spc. Sebastian San Pedro helps secure a simulated helicopter crash site while his fellow team members begin recovery operations of simulated human remains during a Mortuary Affairs Exercise at Fort Pickett, Aug. 13 – 26, 2016.
San Pedro, a mortuary affairs specialist with the 387th Quartermaster Company – Mortuary Affairs, Los Angeles, California, was one of hundreds of MA Soldiers participating in the exercise that helps Soldiers learn how to bring respect and honor to the fallen.

“Training like this keeps the MA Soldiers focused on the concepts and principles of their job,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jairo Portalatin, platoon sergeant with 673rd Quartermaster Company MA. “More importantly, it’s a job that helps bring closure to families and friends of fallen troops, both U.S. and allies.”

More than eight units utilized the concepts of dignity, accountability, and integrity during the training, added Portalatin, an Aguadilla, Puerto Rico native. Each concept is specific to the multiple tasks performed to bring human remains to their final resting place.

The MA job tasks can include search and recovery, human remains collection, processing, tentative identification of the remains and evacuation from theater to home country, said Portalatin.

“When all these tasks are completed efficiently and the remains are accounted for a MA team can have everything completed in 72 hours,” said Portalatin.

Portalatin also stated time is an important factor so families can have their heroes back, which is why being a MA specialist is more than just a job.

Spc. Joseph Hernandez, a MA specialist with the 387th QM, switched Army careers because of what mortuary affairs does for the Soldiers.

“Having done other work on active duty, I wanted to do something more meaningful,” added Hernandez, “and what better way than honoring our fallen Soldiers by bringing them back home.”

“Bringing home human remains is no easy feat”, said Hernandez. “it takes someone who is compassionate and full of integrity to make sure everything is done with the upmost respect.”

“You really have to be mentally strong to perform in this work,” said the Los Angeles native. “There is also the physical aspect, being able to lift the remains and providing setup.”

Portalatin explained exercises like MAX can perfect those qualities, build teamwork and ensure all fallen troops make it home.

“MA is a team effort. We build a resiliency and provide accountability to each other, because we owe it to our fallen to give them a proper remembrance,” he said.