DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS - 4/12/2011) -- Each colonel assigned to Dover Air Force Base has a unique mission in addition to his or her primary duties as a wing, vice or group commander.
There are nine O-6s assigned here who serve as dignified transfer hosts for fallen heroes returning to American soil.
The title DTH is given to the colonel designated to call the orders for the solemn dignified transfer of remains conducted upon arrival at Dover AFB from the aircraft to a transfer vehicle to honor those who have given their lives in the service of the country.
Col. Anthony Krawietz (right) serves as the dignified transfer host Feb. 7, 2011, for Marine Cpl. Lucas T. Pyeatt of West Chester, Ohio. Colonel Krawietz, the 436th Airlift Wing vice commander, is one of nine colonels assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Del., who share the duty. U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik
Originally called the dignified transfer officer, the position later was changed to DTH when Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations became a named activity. Although a general officer from the respective branch of service may be part of the official party, it is always an Air Force colonel from Dover who officiates and serves as the host for the transfer, explained Col. Thomas C. Joyce, the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations commander.
Col. Randal L. Bright, the 512th Airlift Wing commander, has been contributing to this sacred mission longer than others who currently serve to honor the fallen. He performed his first dignified transfer on June 27, 2007.
"The first DT was tough," Colonel Bright said. "My son was in the Army and served with the 1st Armored Division and was wounded in April of 2006. I just wondered at that time of my first DT, what if this had been my son?"
He said it helped him realize how fortunate his family had been, but at the same time, how fortunate the nation is for this fallen hero to have given his last full measure for his country.
Col. Anthony Krawietz, the 436th Airlift Wing vice commander, said his first DT was a significant experience.
"They all are," he added. "It is tremendous what we get to do. This is not a have to do; it's a get to do. It gives back possibly more than any other job I have been involved in."
As the DTH, his focus is on his role in the formation and making the calls.
"I very much concentrate on what it is I am supposed to be doing every step of the way," Colonel Krawietz said.
It's too hard not to. A fallen comrade, another father, or someone's son. A mother, daughter, sister or brother. The Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine in the transfer case has made the ultimate sacrifice. And so has his or her family.
The official party marches out to the aircraft. After a prayer by a chaplain, the DTH calls, "Present Arms." The remains of the fallen military member are transferred from the aircraft to the transfer vehicle with slow deliberate movements by the carry team. The DTH calls, "Order Arms."
The transfer vehicle guide closes the doors and another salute is rendered as the vehicle makes its way to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs.
The time on the flightline is something the colonels do in addition to what they do all day, explained Colonel Krawietz. It has helped him put things in perspective. He has seen how civilians who are charged with creating military policy see it in effect on the ramp here.
"Our civilians and senior leaders absolutely get it," he said. "They understand what is going on here. How they arrive is quite different from how they leave here. You can see it in their faces."
Both colonels view the extra duty as one of the most important in their careers, and the most memorable.
"I am sure at some time, after my time is up at Dover, I will take the time to see how many fallen heroes I have welcomed home with the utmost in dignity, honor and respect," Colonel Bright said. "I have found throughout my time here that serving as a DTH was the hardest duty I have performed but also the most honorable duty I have performed in my 25-year career."