In keeping with the Department of Defense's commitment to honor
its fallen warriors, the Port Mortuary was established in 1955 at
Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Operated by the Air Force
since that time, management of the Port Mortuary shifted between
multiple Air Force units until 2008, when Air Force Mortuary Affairs
Operations took control.
Today, the Port Mortuary finds its
home inside the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, a
sprawling 73,000 square foot, state of the art facility, built in
2003 at a cost of $30 million.
Service members from all
branches of the military, in addition to DOD civilians and
contractors, work tirelessly to comfort the families of the fallen
serving in contingency operations overseas.
Their mission is
to provide dignity, honor, and respect to fallen Soldiers by
preparing them to be returned home to their families.
their counterparts from the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, Soldiers
assigned to the U.S. Army Human Resources Command's Joint Personal
Effects Depot assist with mortuary operations within the Dover Port
October 24, 2017 - Inside the Charles C. Carson Center, located at
Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Senior Airman John Paul Javier
presses the United States National Flag for use during mortuary
affairs operations. The Charles C. Carson Center is home to the Port
Mortuary which is responsible for returning all Department of
Defense service members, civilians, and contractors who perish
during contingency operations overseas. The 73,000 square foot
facility was built in 2003 at a cost of $30 million. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton)
They serve as liaisons for families who travel to Dover
for the dignified transfer of a loved one. They assist with
the final preparations of the fallen in the uniform shop.
They work side by side with Airmen, Sailors, and Marines to
achieve their mission.
THE DIGNIFIED TRANSFER
When a service
member perishes overseas, their remains are flown into Dover
Air Force Base for what is known as the dignified transfer.
Upon arriving at Dover, a detail from that service
member's branch of service transport the warrior's remains
from the aircraft to the Charles C. Carson Center for final
Currently, families have the
option to attend the dignified transfer, and when they do,
it's up to Soldiers such as Sgt. 1st Class William Carson, a
transport noncommissioned officer assigned to the JPED at
Dover, to ensure their needs are taken care of.
we get notification of a deceased service member, it's my
job to get the family members from the airport in
Philadelphia to Dover, and back again," Carson said. "I also
provide transportation for the military escorts who transfer
the fallen service members from the flight line to the
Carson, now performing his second
tour with the JPED, says a lot has changed since his first
tour in 2007.
"Back in 2007 at the height of
contingency ops overseas, families didn't have the option to
attend," he said. "Now they do.
"Dealing with the
families can definitely be a roller coaster ride," he said.
"You have to keep in mind that they just lost the one person
that meant the world to them and you never know how they're
going to cope with that fact, whether it be through tears or
"It's not easy but we just try to be
as respectful as we possibly can so that they can get
through this part of the process."
Carson said that
in addition to the family aspect, operations at the JPED
have also changed.
"It used to take several weeks for
us to get the service member's personal effects," he said.
"There were several stops in between the time those items
left theater and the time they actually arrived at the JPED.
Now it's a straight shot from there to here and that time
frame has been cut to a matter of days."
A TRUE JOINT MISSION
"When service members get assigned here, they become a
part of a unique team; a joint team," said Maj. Laura Wood,
who oversees the Joint Personal Effects Depot as its officer
in charge. "At any given time, you can have a Soldier
working right alongside an Airman, or a Marine."
While typically Soldiers assigned within the JPED handle the
personal effects of all service members, others are
routinely called in to assist with the handling of personal
"Take our Marine LNO's for example," Wood
said. "They come from all over to assist with Marine
personal effects that we as Soldiers wouldn't know. They
help with those cultural nuances, like the shark's tooth,
that only a Marine would know. The same goes for the Air
Force and Navy as well."
Wood is charged with
ensuring the Soldiers assigned to the JPED are well-rounded
and prepared to execute their joint mission at a moment's
"We don't know when we will have to perform
our mission so we spend our time here when we don't have a
casualty training as if we do," Wood said.
we only have one shot at getting this right, we take the
time to go over things such as Department of the Army
As the fallen reach the
Charles C. Carson Center, the service members who care for
them take the time to prepare that warrior's remains in such
a way that brings dignity to the deceased as well as to the
October 24, 2017 - Air Force Staff Sgt. Giuseppe Francioni (left)
and Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Luis Diaz (right) assemble the dress
uniforms of their respective services for use during mortuary
affairs operations at the Charles C. Carson Center, located at Dover
Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Oct. 24, 2017. The Charles C. Carson
Center is home to the Port Mortuary which is responsible for
returning all Department of Defense service members, civilians, and
contractors who perish during contingency operations overseas. The
73,000 square foot facility was built in 2003 at a cost of $30
million. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton)
Attention to every minute detail is made. Flags that will
drape the caskets of the deceased are individually pressed.
Uniforms that will clothe the deceased are custom tailored
Within the uniform shop, the walls are lined
with every decoration and appurtenance from each individual
service. Each uniform is meticulously assembled in
accordance to the service member's service records. They are
then checked and rechecked for proper order of precedence
"We take a lot of pride in what we
do here because you can instantly see the impact on the
families with the work we are doing on the uniforms," said
Air Force Staff Sgt. Giuseppe Francioni, uniform shop
noncommissioned officer in charge. "So you can take a lot of
pride in what you do and knowing that that uniform going out
is the best that you can do."
in the Uniform Shop, Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Luis Diaz,
reemphasized that point.
"We have been working
together in the uniform shop for about a year now," Diaz
said. "This is our signature going out the door. This is our
final product and this is our way as service members of
saying thanks to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice."
Diaz said the difficulty in working with families adds
an extra degree of pressure to the job.
difficult going out there and helping with the families who
wish to attend the Dignified Transfer and then coming back
inside here and helping to prepare their loved one for final
burial," Diaz said. "That's one of the hardest parts and
sometimes we have to step away."
While both Francioni
and Diaz point out that working at the Port Mortuary can be
both emotionally rewarding and draining at the same time,
they also said that they wouldn't want to do anything else.
"This has such a greater impact than anything else I do
in my day-to-day duties," Francioni said. "With each uniform
that I do, I can say this is my final product to you, the
family, and my way of honoring your loved one for their
Wood, having served 16 years in
the Army, said that while every mission she has undertaken
in the military has been important, "this one has been the
"With our work here, you see the
families start the grieving process," she said. "You get to
see the appreciation in the faces of the families for the
job we do for them. Those things provide a purpose for what
we do here."
That purpose, Wood said, is what drives
the Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines assigned to the
Port Mortuary and Joint Personal Effects Depot to continue
with their mission of honoring the fallen.
our motto probably captures it best," she said. "To honor
the fallen. I think that no matter what the circumstances
are out there, the service members inside here would take as
much pride in what they are doing and the final product that
goes out because they know this is the last memory those
families will have of their loved ones."
By U.S. Army Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton
To Honor The Fallen
- The Joint Personal Effects Depot
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