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A Day in Mortuary Affairs in Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by ethics, Jan 23, 2014.

  1. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    It wasn't a battle but... Well, one redditer who served there described it as thus:

    In addition to sending home fallen US/Coalition servicemembers, one of our responsibilities was to return local nationals who died in American care to their families. Often these were Afghan National Army soldiers or Afghan National Police officers who had been serving in other provinces and been killed. They'd be flown to Bagram and their families notified. We would prepare them and take them to the front gate and turn their remains over to their families.

    Sometimes, though, they were just local nationals who happened to be sick or injured and died in an American hospital. They would be swathed in a kafan at the hospital and turned over to us. We would bring an HRP with us and muslim orderlies would work the remains into the bag. We would load them on the stretcher and take them back to the morgue where we would put them in a simple pine box. ANA/ANP would have an Afghan flag draped over the lid.

    Some time later we would receive a call from our LNO who would let us know when to meet the family at the front gate. We would remove the casket from our refrigeration unit and load them in the back of our big white box truck. We would put on our plate carriers (SOF guys took care of us; we had cooler kit than we had any business having) grab our rifles and head to the gate. At the gate we would meet up with an interpreter and the family would come through the walking section.

    They would confirm the names on the paperwork and we would pull out of the gate. They would pull up their car and we would transfer the casket from the box truck and come back inside. It became pretty routine.

    One day a 15 or 16 year old kid was hit by a truck. I don't know if it was an MRAP or what the circumstance were, just that he was hit and died at Craig Hospital on Bagram. We received a call that the family was on the way and that we could meet them in an hour. We load up and head that way.

    At the gate, things went a little different. Instead of a local 'terp, we were greeted by an Airman. We asked if he knew what we were doing and he said handing over someone to their family. Accurate enough. Let's go.

    He walked over to the walking entrance and talked to the guard, who brought the family over. The three of them walked up and we had the Airman ask their name and what kind of car they had with them(It's not an unreasonable question; you'd be amazed at the vehicles we've had to strap coffins onto).

    They told us that they didn't bring a car. We asked how they planned to get their son home.

    They told us they would take turns carrying him. These were not big burly SF bros. We asked what they meant by that.

    They looked confused for a second, and then one threw his arm around the other and kicked his right leg back. Like you would help someone who had a sprained ankle. This made sense to the Airman. Me and the other two MA guys exchanged glances.

    I told the Airman to ask them what they had been told about their son. They said that he had been hit by a truck and that his leg had been broken. I took a deep breath.

    I had the Airman confirm the name of the boy they were supposed to be picking up. The names matched.

    "Alright, man. This is about to be a terrible day for everyone involved. We're Mortuary Affairs, and we have a dead kid in the back of our truck. I don't know who's fucked up, but right now we need to confirm that this is the right kid in the back of our truck and the only way for us to do that is for me to climb back there with him, open the casket, and have him make a visual ID of his son. Best case scenario: PAD screwed up and we're going to scare the shit out of this guy telling him his son is dead and he's not. Worst case scenario: We have to tell this guy his son is dead and he doesn't react well."

    So the ghost-white Airman and I bring the father over behind the truck while the uncles stand out front. I slowly and calmly explain the situation with the Airman repeating me in pastho. The father argues for a moment, and starts to get fairly animated. He walks back around the front of the truck and talks to his brothers and they get fairly upset as well. My hand moves to the grip of my rifle, as I start to get a little more alert.

    So the father comes back around to the back and crosses his arms. He is convinced that it is not his son. It cannot be his son.

    As the ramp lowers, I move next to him. The pine box comes into view and his face hardens.

    We climb into the truck, and I point to the rollers on the ground telling him to be careful. The Airman stands on the ground outside. He didn't sign up for this.

    I half crouch next to the casket as the man kneels. He's between me and the exit.

    I wrestle the top off the casket and slide it toward the wall, my hand still on my rifle.

    I reach over and unzip the HRP as far as I can reach, almost to the waist. I fold the flap over and the body is there wrapped in white muslin. The father's breathing is coming rapidly and through his nose. He's visibly shaking.

    My understanding is that it is disrespectful for a non muslim to touch the burial shroud. I gesture to it, "Would you...?" He shakes his head, vehement.

    I reach over and pull the shroud back, exposing the boy's face. The boy's name falls from his father's lips, just barely audible. He looks at me. I don't speak Pashto. I don't know what to say. "I'm Sorry" is all I can muster.

    I don't know what he saw in me at that moment. I still don't have words for what I saw in him.

    He lunged at me then. Fast and hard. His arms wrapped around my neck. I'm still ashamed that it took me a few moments for me to take my hand off my rifle so I could hug him back. It's been better than three years, and it still bugs the shit out of me.

    Source http://www.reddit.com/r/Military/co...cenes_at_dover_afb_where_they_prepare/cewo3yv
  2. Allene

    Allene Registered User

    Awesome story! Thanks for posting!
    ethics likes this.

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