“Step!...Step!...Step!” shouted the mass casualty team lead as the in-line group searched for simulated human remains.
“FIND!” Human remains are located.
Camp Lemonnier and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa conducted a mass casualty exercise beginning at a nearby air field and ending at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, June 1, 2016.
The exercise included a mock vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonation resulting in two casualties. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kacy James, 870th Air Expeditionary Squadron Services and Mass Casualty Exercise team lead, led a team of U.S. Air Force Services personnel trained in mortuary affairs along with civil engineer volunteers to conduct search and recovery. The team leads then transported the simulated remains to the mortuary affairs collection point located on CLDJ.
“Normally, for Services, part of our job, besides food, fitness and lodging, is to do mortuary affairs,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Smith, 870th AES Services and team lead for search and recovery. “There are not enough Services personnel to put together a team, so we got augmentees and today was our first trial run after putting them through the training, to see what kinks we need to work out.”
At the mortuary affairs collection point, volunteers from the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force came together to process the remains, coordinate and prepare them for transfer to Dover Air Force Base, Del.
“I think overall this was a great experience and to be a part of. Not just Air Force mortuary affairs, but to be a part of the Army, Navy and Marines process is a great experience,” said James. “We are here to get the human remains back to Dover (AFB) with honor and dignity.”
This was a first for all three entities: CLDJ, HOA and the air field, to come together for a mortuary affairs training exercise, said James.
“The goal is for us to be more efficient; the search and recovery effort is for us to make sure, if anything happens on our watch, we are able to take care of our own,” Smith said. “The second part of the operation, the mass casualty portion at CLDJ, was to give them the opportunity to run through working with us since they have more capabilities than we do. Our capabilities are search and recovery and then transfer the remains here.”
The mortuary affairs collection point team took in the mock human remains that were either a whole body or parts of a body. Some of the tasks the team completed were to attempt to identify the individual, collect personal belongings found on the person, coordinate air support to Dover AFB, and dress the temperature-controlled casket with an American flag.
“I think the team did very well seeing how the majority of them were just trained within the last two weeks, from the (U.S. Army Regionally Aligned Forces),” said Chief Petty Officer Titus Gibson, Camp Lemonnier Mortuary Affairs hazardous material chief. “They did really well. There is always room for improvement and that’s one of the reasons why we had this type of training, and they were all willing to help.”