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Cape man assists in ‘dignified transfer’ of fallen heroes

By Staff | Jul 22, 2009

By Dona Fair, Special to The Breeze

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – After an unexpected knock at the front door or a phone call, for the family and friends of service members who pay the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country, the painful process of grieving begins.
For the son of a Cape Coral woman, the painful task of identifying the remains, scanning for unexploded ordnances, performing an autopsy, and preparing each service member for burial in a casket chosen by the family for the final trip home begins.
Todd Rose, son of Nancy Young Lesieur of Cape Coral, and the other civilian and military members who work at the 70,000-square-foot, Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, are tasked with making sure that the remains of every service member is treated with dignity, honor, and respect.
Rose is assigned to the mortuary as chief, mortuary affairs division.
“My division is responsible for providing dignity, honor, and respect to our fallen, and care, service, and support to their families. We fulfill this solemn duty by writing policy and instructions to ensure our program is operating in accordance with current federal law. We lecture and teach our program to all levels of Air Force hierarchy ensuring personnel are aware of the support provided in the death of an airman. And, we respond to all aircraft mishaps to provide professional oversight in the recovery, identification, preparation, and return of a fallen airman to his or her family,” said Rose.
“My most important role is to act in the capacity of a funeral director in obtaining and carrying out the wishes of the person authorized to direct disposition in honoring the life of our fallen.”
Before the remains are taken to the mortuary for preparation for their final resting place, they are honored for giving their lives in the service of our country by what is called a dignified transfer.
The dignified transfer begins when the fallen military member is returned to Dover, usually within 24 to 36 hours after their death. It is here, along the flightline and out of the sight of the media, where family members are allowed to witness the transfer.
The dignified transfer is a solemn, precision movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service. Always conducted the same, a senior ranking officer of the fallen member’s service oversees each transfer. The transfers are conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country.
“It is through their sacrifice that we enjoy the freedom of living in America, so to be entrusted with their care is humbling,” said Rose, who graduated from Marshall County High School, Benton, Ky., and Gupton-Jones College, Atlanta, Ga. “Our organization is staffed with dedicated and devoted young men and women who work tirelessly to provide dignity, honor, and respect to our fallen heroes.”
Beginning with the Persian Gulf War in 1991, a moratorium was placed on media access to cover dignified transfers. The policy was reissued in 2001 when Operation Enduring Freedom began, and again in 2003 for all military operations. Since 2001, more than 4,000 dignified transfers have taken place.
Because of the moratorium, few people are aware that Mortuary Affairs exists, and what their role is in preparing the remains of a fallen hero before being returned to their loved ones.
“We support the deaths of airmen throughout the world. They could have died during the Korean, Vietnam, or Cold Wars, during current operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, or while supporting Air Force operations anywhere else in the world. It is our responsibility to prepare and return the fallen to their family and arrange military honors to pay tribute for their service,” said Rose. “Additionally, our staff pays the bills for costs associated with the services and arranges family travel to attend the dignified transfers.”
Rose and his fellow team members continue to make sure that each military member receives the utmost dignity, honor, and respect that they deserve.