Mortuary Affairs bring honor to families

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Montse Ramirez
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A team of committed servicemembers here ensures Airmen receive the honor, respect and dignity they deserve when they pass away.

The job of Air Force Global Strike Command mortuary affairs members is to carry the burden of dealing with the details of the funeral, allowing the family to grieve.

"It's important to honor and put Airmen to rest in a dignified manner, so it needs to be done right," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Pierce, 509th Force Support Squadron, NCO in charge of mortuary affairs. "The least we could do is to get every little detail done so the family can mourn and have little stress as possible."

After obtaining news of the worse kind, the next of kin receive a phone call from Sergeant Pierce to begin the process of getting the Airman ready for his final destination.

After the first phone call between the next of kin and Sergeant Pierce is made, the door is open for family members to address any concerns they may have.

Three of the most frequent questions he addresses to the next of kin are:

1. What do we need to do to get him/her home?

Sergeant Pierce explains the procedures and ensures it will all be handled professionally.

2. Is he/she qualified for honors and mortuary benefits?

If they are active duty they immediately qualify for honors and mortuary benefits. Also, Guardsmen and Reservist will receive the same if they were on active duty orders.
Retirees also qualify for honors, but no other mortuary benefits.

How is the funeral going to be paid for?

The Air Force pays for the basic arrangements and transportation, flowers and catering will need to be paid for separately.

Once he receives detailed information on the family's specific arrangements for the funeral, Sergeant Pierce begins to put it all together.

Sergeant Pierce said he first contacts the funeral home and the mortician. Then, he purchases the last uniform the Airman will wear if the family requests it, and works with the military personnel flight to obtain their awards and decorations. Sergeant Pierce is the last one to put together the ribbon rack which shows their life's career accomplishments.

"Putting their ribbons together is rough," said Sergeant Pierce. "It's equally tragic to see a ribbon rack with many ribbons, symbolizing a long career as seeing one with few ribbons symbolizing the beginning of a career."

After the mortician has dressed and gotten her ready, Sergeant Pierce gives her one final inspection to make sure once again she's her very best for her family.

The remains are then shipped to their final destination where family members can say their last goodbyes.

It's two or three days of hard work, sometimes with very little resolution; Sergeant Pierce doesn't get to see the funeral, he just has to trust he did his job well, knowing it's his duty to pay respect on behalf of the Air Force by taking care of the Airman's final needs.

"After doing so much preparation, I don't get to see the very end of it, which is rough but as long as the family likes the result I'm glad," said Sergeant Pierce. "Sometimes I call the family to make sure everything went well to get a sense of closure."