Center Offers Respite for Families of Fallen
(March 14, 2010)
Robin Raine straightens up the sitting area of the Center for
Families of the Fallen at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Feb. 22, 2010.
||DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., March 10, 2010 –
Robin Raine walked through the plush, richly
appointed room with purpose, her eyes fixed on a
lampshade that was askew, a flaw in the
otherwise immaculate sitting area.
She was intent on ensuring all was perfect for
the families who would arrive shortly. They may
not notice a speck of dust or a crooked
lampshade, but to Raine, the spotless
surroundings are the least she can do to honor
Raine is the director of the Center for Families
of the Fallen, a place where grieving families
can wait in comfort for their fallen
servicemember to arrive home. All servicemembers
who die in support of a combat operation come
through the Air Force Mortuary Affairs
Operations Center here, and their return is
marked with what officials call a dignified
transfer -- a respectful movement of the remains
from the aircraft to a waiting vehicle, then to
the port mortuary.
The center opened just a few months ago, but
already has hosted hundreds of family members.
The 6,000-square-foot building is equipped with
sitting areas configured to offer privacy, a
meditation room, play areas for children and
babies, a fully equipped and
stocked kitchen, and a separate room available for families' needs.
“Every detail here was thought about with the comfort of the
family in mind,” Raine said. “We wanted to offer families a
serene environment with all of the creature comforts we
could possibly provide to them.” |
Before the center was built, families waited for a dignified
transfer in a chapel annex borrowed from the base, a
sparsely furnished area with folding chairs and stark, white
walls that offered little privacy to families.
“It just wasn't set up for hosting people, although it was
generous of the base to offer its facilities,” Raine said.
“It just wasn't ever made for that.”
Still, the space had worked until recently, because few
families traveled to attend the dignified transfer event.
But a Defense Department policy change in April created an
influx of family members. The new policy offers families an
option of media coverage of dignified transfers and funds
for up to three family members to travel here for the event.
Since the policy change, “we've had over 1,700 family
members come here, and we've only been doing this for 10
months,” said Air Force Col. Robert H. Edmondson, commander
of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center. “A
tremendous amount of family members want to come.”
Leaders recognized the need for a bigger, better-equipped
facility, and a visit from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen.
Norton A. Schwartz and his wife clinched the deal.
“They recognized we had to do something better, something
designated for the families,” Edmondson said. “They
championed the cause and really made it happen.” The center
was built in an existing building in just 90 days.
Todd Rose, director of the mortuary affairs division and a
licensed funeral director, and his staff infused lessons
learned and private-sector knowledge into designing the
center. The furniture, for instance, is purposefully
situated in seating groups to optimize privacy.
“We wanted to create an environment that would allow
families to be together, but also allow them separation if
they should need to be maintained as a family,” Rose said.
As families arrive, they're encouraged to make themselves at
home. Raine and her two-person staff drift through the
center, providing everything from fresh coffee to child
care. Raine recently watched four children under age 5 in
the nursery so their parents could attend the dignified
transfer without worrying about their children being exposed
to the rain and cold.
|The Center for Families of
the Fallen at Dover Air Force Base, Del.,
includes several sitting areas, configured to
offer privacy for families. The center was built
to provide a comfortable waiting area for
families who travel to Dover to attend a
dignified transfer, an event that marks the
return of a fallen servicemember to U.S. soil.
“We do anything we can to make families comfortable,” she
Also at the center are a family liaison and a family support
team that comprises a funeral director, chaplain, chaplain's
assistant and mental health specialist. The family liaison,
who is a member of the same service as the fallen
servicemember, takes care of travel arrangements and serves
as a focal point for any questions or concerns.
“When the families get here, they don't see the time and
energy that's been put in by the center's staff,” Rose said.
“Their commitment is amazing.”
The family support team travels with the families to attend
the dignified transfer on the flightline. The families then
head back to hotels or home.
But every morning, without fail, Raine or one of her staff
is back to set cushions and chairs back in place, straighten
up the play area and ensure the center is as immaculate as
possible. More families may be arriving, and Raine won't
accept anything less than perfection for them.
Article and photos by Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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