Mortuary Affairs mission to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti
Photo by Sgt. Daniel S. King, U.S. Army Africa
Respectful treatment and honor for the deceased have been abiding aspects of every human society since time out of mind, and carry special significance in the military milieu.
To ensure that rigorous and appropriate practices are followed to the fullest extent for American service members serving in Africa, a U.S. Army Africa Mortuary Affairs (MA) team recently completed training Soldiers of the 2-137th Calvary of the Kansas Army National Guard deployed to the Horn of Africa.
Staff Sgt. Keish R. Clinkscale-Hallman and Sgt. Daniel King led a two-week, USARAF Theater Mortuary Affairs Office course for 25 Soldiers serving at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The training focused on search and recovery of human remains and personal effects, and collection point operation procedures, as well as allowing for the validation of MA equipment on hand in the theater.
“When new Soldiers are deployed to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, we create search and rescue teams, and collection point operations teams,” said Clinkscale-Hallman, who is USARAF’s MA Noncommissioned Officer in Charge.
“The team members are chosen from each unit and are trained by me. They conduct their MOS (military occupational specialty) daily, and when a death occurs on Camp Lemonnier, they focus on processing and evacuating remains until they repatriated back to their loved ones,” she said.
The prime focus for the MA training is on searching for, documenting, recovering and evacuating human remains and personal effects from an area of incident to the Landstuhl Morgue in Germany or to the Dover Port Mortuary in Dover, Del., for final processing and disposition, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joachim Consiglio of USARAF G-4.
And training is conducted by the best: With 13 years as an MA specialist, and more time in the same professional capacity in civilian life, Clinkscale-Hallman is a former instructor at the Joint Mortuary Affairs Center in Fort Lee, Va., where she instructed service members from all components during Advanced Individual Training leading to the MA MOS.
The recent course is a full, 40-hour engagement that includes classroom and field training. Service members demonstrate skills that include locating, securing, and retrieving remains and personal effects, said Clinkscale-Hallman. They also learn to complete required records of search and recovery, and create evacuation tags for each set of human remains and personal effects processed.
“It takes probably about a total of four to six hours to process remains and personal effects at the collection point,” but there is more to MA than that, said Clinkscale-Hallman.
Part of the process requires working in tandem with an Armed Forces Medical Examiner, who conducts autopsy and embalming procedures once collection point team procedures are complete. Each death that occurs on Camp Lemonnier is also investigated by the Criminal Investigation Division — or the equivalent Navy NCIS — to ensure that deaths are scrupulously documented and remains properly prepared for evacuation, Clinkscale-Hallman said.
The training also reiterates the duties and responsibilities of commanders and summary court marshal officers in the event of a service member’s death, Consiglio said.
Clinkscale-Hallman said her interest in MA was evident even when she was a child. “Growing up in the African-American community there were always funerals, and I always just wondered about it: how do they do that?” she said.
The Columbia, S.C., native said her father wanted her to be a doctor, and she began undergraduate studies majoring in science, but learned about the possibility of studying mortuary science as a profession and switched track, graduating from the Gupton Jones College of Funeral Services in Decatur, Ga., in 1995 with a degree in mortuary science.
An interest in what happens after someone dies piques the curiosity of most people, and of Soldiers in particular, Clinkscale-Hallman said.
“Most Soldiers are very interested in what happens to their battle buddies after death. They want to know about the process of returning Soldiers home. Their curiosity is evident, especially when they are chosen to be on a search and recovery team,” she said.
Over the years, Clinkscale-Hallman has heard every joke you can imagine about her calling, but that doesn’t faze her at all, she said.
“I mean, I enjoy it. I enjoy teaching other service members about processing remains, because it could be a friend or a battle buddy of theirs, or it could be them one day. Knowing exactly what goes on, it puts their minds at rest,” she said.
“Unfortunately, I am not able to save lives; however, I do have the ability to return fallen angels home with the utmost honor, dignity and respect. At the end of the day, I can rest easy knowing that my effort of returning a Soldier home has allowed a loved one to bring them closer.”
And MA professionals guide every step of the final journey home, Clinkscale-Hallman said.
“We follow the process all the way to the end, till the family conducts the funeral service. Regardless of the service at the end, it’s still the same process,” she said.
“The semi-annual training is imperative so that everyone understands the procedures and the importance of returning remains home with dignity, honor and respect,” Consiglio said.
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