Tag Archives: Mortuary Affairs

Cherishing life, past heroes

By Capt Amber Millerchip
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

I’m Capt Amber Millerchip, Chief of Emerging Technology for the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, and I’d like to share with you how one of my deployments changed me. Last week, we (AF Social Media) asked you on Facebook to share with us what you planned to do to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day. We read such amazing stories, and we were inspired to try something new. In order to highlight some of your stories, we want you to be guest bloggers and send us posts for the USAF blog (instructions are below). I hope that my blog post will inspire you to write your own post.
Capt Amber Millerchip

As a third generation Air Force officer, Memorial Day weekend is more than time off from work, picnics and fun in the sun; it’s a special time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about enjoying the break and spending time with family, but what’s more important is taking the time to reflect, honor and remember those veterans who’ve served and those who’ve died for our great nation.

Last summer, I deployed to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center, Dover Air Force Base, Del., where all of our fallen service members arrive home from combat. During the dignified transfers, I shared in the ultimate loss of parents, spouses and children. Some were silent welcoming their loved one home and others cried out their despair, their heartbreak so evident I barely could maintain my military bearing and at times just couldn’t stop my tears from falling.

I come from a very big military family and thank goodness we’ve never lost anyone to combat, but I did lose a best friend. She died in a joint exercise in Egypt. In her short life, she was a such as bright star. Her amazing spirit shone through her eyes and affected everyone she met. When I was at Dover, I couldn’t help but think of her, and although I didn’t get to help her on her final journey, at least I was able to help those that I could. 

My deployment was one of the most intense and honorable experiences of my life, and I felt blessed for the opportunity to help my fallen comrades on their final journey home. Looking back, I realize they helped me more than I helped them. Their sacrifices and their family’s sacrifices deeply touched me. I am a better person and Airman after these experiences. I realized with every fallen service member I encountered, it could be me, or one of my brothers, troops or friends serving. The experience renewed my pride in my service and gave me such an appreciation for my life. I will NEVER be the same again.
Grandfather
I decided to start a Memorial Day tradition every year. I’m going to do something remarkable. Something that reminds me that life is precious, beautiful, and that I should live life to the fullest– now! This past weekend I decided to do sky diving to honor my fallen comrades, including my friend and my grandfather, a former WWII hero who didn’t die in combat, but flying later on in his life. Not sure what next year will be, but I can promise you it will be a grand adventure, and I’ll be thinking about these special people all the way.

We want to know how the USAF has taught you a lesson or inspired you. Send us your own stories for our consideration at afbluetube@gmail.com. We need from you at least 300 words, a headline, a byline, and a photo with a caption. We’ll fix typos and grammatical errors, but we won’t change your writing style. Remember to keep entries family friendly and relevant. Profanity or solicitation will not be read. We will pick the best and share them with our social media followers.

PHOTOS: (Top) This is me in action at Dover Air Force Base, Del. I was waiting for the vehicle transporting the family to the flight line for a dignified transfer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik). (Bottom) An up-close photo of my grandfather and a crew member in front of his A-20 Havoc.

Special Dispatch from Ali Base — A Higher Calling

While others were recently celebrating Memorial Day with cook-outs and vacations, our Airmen and Soldiers remained vigilant for the ultimate memorial—that for a fallen Soldier. Thanks to Lt. Col. Richard J. Hughes (below) for sharing this story with Air Force Live. And a special thanks to all Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who are deployed worldwide and stateside to help protect us.

A Higher Calling
By Lt. Col. Richard J. Hughes, 407th Air Expeditionary Group Deputy Commander

It’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and we’re in the shade of an aircraft silhouette. The wind is blowing steadily at about 25 knots (29 mph).  It’s like standing in front of a giant hair dryer. The weather forecaster says there are gusts up to 35 knots (41 mph). The wind is sending a steady stream of sand and dust whipping across the Ali Base flightline into the faces of Airmen and Soldiers alike. There is silence, except for the wind.

Yet, we stand, at attention in two straight lines beginning at the ramp of a C-130 Hercules. We’re waiting to render honors. We ignore the heat, the wind and the sand. We are humbled by the presence of one of our countrymen.

Thirty minutes prior on this Sunday morning, the day began very much like any other day with physical training then off to the Group to get planes and people moving. However, today I needed to get to the chapel for religious services–time for personal prayer and reflection.

Exactly three minutes into the service, the chaplain assistant tapped me on the shoulder. “Sir, the command post needs to speak with you immediately.”  Damn, I thought, I just signed off the net five minutes ago. After saying a quick prayer, I went to the chapel annex.

“Sir, we just got notified of an inbound ‘hero’ flight, due on the deck in 30 minutes,” said the on-duty emergency action controller. “It was diverted in flight by the Combined Air Operations Center, and they’re here to take a Soldier home.” I asked if the brigade and garrison commands have been notified. Our installation is a joint base, and the respective service usually handles all the coordination.

“Sir they’ve been notified, however we’re unsure if they’ll have a team in place,” the EAC said.

I said, “I’ll be on the flightline ramp in 10 ‘mikes’ (minutes).”

Waiting on the ramp were three Soldiers from the brigade mortuary affairs platoon. They had prepared the remains of a young Soldier, killed the day before, for transport. Moreover, they were tired having worked throughout the night to get him ready for his final journey.

The weather forecast indicated deteriorating conditions. The crew needed to be off the ground in 15 minutes to beat the weather, but would wait as long as possible. It was time to act quickly to get this Soldier home – but with the honor he deserved.

Calling over the radio net, I asked an Ali Base chaplain to come quickly to the ramp. The aircrew was reconfiguring the aircraft to receive the fallen Soldier. Several Airmen from the terminal were nearby. I gathered them together and briefed them on the situation.

The chaplain pulled up–this was his first ‘hero’ flight. We didn’t know the Soldier’s faith; the Army mortuary affairs team only had a name and unit. It didn’t matter, because the chaplain knew exactly what needed to be done.  Chaplains endeavor to meet the religious needs of every service member, regardless of faith.

“Group!  Present arms!” Twenty arms rise simultaneously and hold the first of a series of final salutes to the Soldier. The flag-draped casket, carried by three Airmen and three Soldiers, passes by silently and solemnly. The chaplain follows slowly, saying prayers as he walks. The pallbearers place the casket gently in the hold of the aircraft.

“Order arms!” Twenty arms slowly drop. The chaplain remains, continuing to say prayers for the Soldier, his family, his friends and his fellow comrades in arms. We pray silently to ourselves for this young man who is far from home and away from those who know him and who are grieving their loss.

“Group! Dismissed!” The small formation takes a step back, does an about face, and marches off silently. I thank the crew for allowing us to take the time to render honors to this fallen Soldier.

As Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, we routinely endure hardship and sacrifice on behalf of our fellow countrymen. Unlike any other profession, ours comes with the realization that we may pay the ultimate sacrifice thousands of miles away from home, in a foreign land. We are duty- and honor-bound to do whatever we must to protect and ensure the freedoms of our citizens.

When one of our own makes that final, ultimate sacrifice, we must do everything we can to make sure he or she is given the highest level of honor and respect. Nothing interferes with that obligation. That is why – despite the heat, the sand and the wind – we gathered on a flightline in southern Iraq. It is what needed to be done for a Soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice – one who met a “higher calling.”

Air Force in upcoming HBO flick ‘Taking Chance’ with Kevin Bacon

Airmen will appear in HBO’s upcoming “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon. Click here to watch a two-minute sneak peak.  The HBO film should premier mid-January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT.  HBO will broadcast the movie in February on HBO. The clip includes brief interior and exterior scenes of a C-17 with assistance from personnel from the Dover AFB, DE. Mortuary Affairs offices. Check out the story from Blackfive.