FORT LEE, Va. (April 15, 2010) – In a military occupational specialty as old as the Civil War, Soldiers and Marines learn to care for the military’s dead at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School’s Joint Mortuary Affairs Center.
The specialty once known as Graves Registration has evolved over time. Today, the work of MA specialists isn’t limited to search and recovery of remains on the battlefield. They are trained to respond to any mass fatality situation. The two active duty MA companies in the Army, the 54th and 111th Quartermaster Companies, are assigned to Fort Lee’s 49th QM Group.
The 12 Soldiers and one Marine currently attending the 92M course learned early in their training that dignity, reverence and respect aren’t just words. It’s a creed they’ll use as they perform their duty.
In week one of the training, which began April 6, the students learned to operate global positioning systems and metal detectors. They received instruction in map reading and land navigation. They learned to set up and search a crime scene or site. They also toured the Richmond City Morgue to get an up close view of working with the dead.
Most of the students agree the visit to the morgue was a significant event and a valuable experience.
It was the first visit to a morgue by Pvt. David Dicken Jr.
“It was a different experience, but one well worth it,” he said. “I learned a lot from the visit.”
Pvt. Zachary Snyder said the class viewed it from a scientific aspect instead of an emotional one, which kept everyone calm.
“It was interesting. I don’t think it affected any of us emotionally, which is important when working in this field,” Snyder said.
In week two of the training, the students completed a field exercise where they arrived at two mock crime scenes and put their newly acquired skills to use.
With the class divided into two teams, the students learned to work together, which Pfc. Erika Williams said is important to mortuary affairs specialists.
“It’s got to be a team effort with this job,” she said. “You’ve got to be comfortable with your teammates. What you come upon in this field is unlike anything else and you’ve got to have moral support. We are doing well together, we are truly a team.”
During the field exercise, Team Fields – named for class instructor, Staff Sgt. Don Fields – arrived on the scene of a suspected suicide where they staked out 100 meters in all directions. Then they broke the scene into four-meter and then two meter grids to conduct a grid search for evidence. Everything they discover at the scene is marked with a flag. The personal effects may include identification card or dog tags. Body parts that may no longer be with the torso are also flagged, as are the remains.
Team Hawkins, named for instructor Staff Sgt. Heidi Hawkins, encountered a mock scene of an automobile accident involving alcohol.
Everything at each of the mock sites was collected to be returned with the human remains to the medical examiner to help determine the events leading to the death.
The students will complete week two with another trip to the Richmond City Morgue where they will have the opportunity for hands-on training. They will assist the staff with autopsies.
Friday, the students will be tested on the materials they’ve covered so far.
For more photos, visit the Traveller’s Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/ftleetraveller. Read about the reporter’s experiences as the series continues in the Notes section of the Fort Lee Traveller Facebook site.
For the next eight weeks, the Traveller will follow the Joint Mortuary Affairs Center Class 92M No. 006-10 as they navigate through the training required to become a mortuary affairs specialist in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.