Airmen Cover the Fallen With Dignity, Honor, Respect
(April 9, 2009)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Star Samuels, front, and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Willard Rico place a U.S. flag over a casket March 31, 2009, during a dry run of shipping process procedures for the dignified transfer of remains at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, Dover Air Force Base, Del.
||DOVER AIR FORCE BASE,
Del., April 6, 2009 – For some, it means red,
white and blue. It means 13 stripes for the
original colonies and 50 stars for the states.
For the families of the fallen, the American
flag means so much more.
Because of this, two airmen
assigned to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs
Operations Center here take their mission very
"These men and women who
gave their lives for their country for the sake
of freedom deserve the utmost dignity, honor and
respect," Air Force Tech. Sgt. Willard Rico, a
shipping specialist here, said. "I'm very
privileged to be a part of that, especially for
the families left behind."
Rico is deployed from the 60th Force Support
Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. His
co-worker, Air Force Staff Sgt. Star Samuels, a
shipping specialist deployed from the 43rd Force
Support Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, N.C.,
echoes his sentiment.
"We're taking care of someone's child, mother,
father, husband, wife. They passed away
protecting this country; we try to make
everything perfect to give them and their
families the utmost respect," Samuels said.
The shipping specialists are part of the final
process for fallen heroes prior to beginning
their journey home to their loved ones. The
mortuary staff prepares the remains of fallen
U.S. servicemembers, as well as government
officials and their families stationed abroad in
Europe and Southwest Asia. Since 1955, the
remains of more than 50,000 servicemembers have
arrived here for identification and
The shipping specialists, Rico and
Samuels, inspect the caskets, as well as perform a final
check to make sure the dog tags, ribbons, flag and more are
correct and up to standards. They are the final "eyes"
before the fallen are sent to their loved ones. |
"We make sure everything is perfect," Samuels said. "Our
mission is to send them out the way they're remembered, not
how they came in."
Before any fallen come through the doors of the mortuary,
the airmen prepare the flags. They remove the flags from
their protective packaging, unfold them and then slowly feed
them into an industrial steamer for pressing. As the airmen
gently unfurl the 5-by-9 foot flag and feed it into the
steamer, they spray a mist of water on it. The machine folds
the flag over as it presses so that the flag never touches
The airmen slowly take the freshly pressed flag and put it
on a frame for later use. The flags will gently caress the
caskets of the fallen as they return to their families.
Ultimately, these same flags will be folded by an honor
guard at the funeral and presented to the family as a final
remembrance of their fallen hero's service and ultimate
For Samuels, pressing the flags brings home the experience
and importance of what they mean.
"When I'm pressing a flag, I'm pressing a flag for someone
who hasn't died yet," she said. "Today, we pressed 12 flags.
Those flags could be here until next weekend, then all of a
sudden, we're pressing 12 more flags."
The flags drape over a rack until needed. Once a flag is
needed, the two airmen, standing on either side of the
casket, slowly pull the pressed flag off of the rack and
onto the casket. One of them stands at the foot, one at the
head, working in harmony, making eye contact, as they
carefully and delicately drape the flag to embody the casket
with the fallen soldier, sailor, Marine or airman.
The movements are slow, deliberate and in sync. Their eyes
roam around the casket, making sure everything is perfect.
"I have so much respect for my fallen heroes," Samuels said.
"These heroes have families, loved ones, who could've talked
to them just a couple of hours ago. Just one mistake, one
trip down the road, anything can happen. I take nothing for
The airmen perform this mission day in and day out for the
"We're here for the families," Rico said. "I'm privileged to
be working here, giving dignity, honor and respect to the
fallen for their families. It's the most rewarding job I've
ever done so far in my career."
As the red, white and blue is secured around the casket, the
stars and stripes drawn taunt, the airmen prepare to send
the fallen home. They render the slow salute as the American
flag passes by.
Air Force Capt. Shannon Collins, Mortuary Affairs Operations
Center Public Affairs Office
Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III
American Forces Press Service
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