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NEWS | Aug. 14, 2012

Michigan Air National Guard Airmen refine search and recovery skills

By Tech Sgt. Daniel Heaton 127th Wing

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. - With a steady summer rain shower adding to the mood, Airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing here conducted a search and recovery exercise as part of a week-long series of training scenarios to ensure that the 127th Force Support Squadron is prepared to respond to any duty they are called upon to perform.

"It is an aspect of our job that most people probably don't realize that we do, but ultimately, it is the most important job," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Palmeri, a member of the Services Flight, 127th FSS at Selfridge.

Palmeria and others in his unit have five broad areas of responsibility: lodging, food services, fitness, recreation and mortuary affairs. That final duty means that when they deploy, services Airmen are called upon to lead search and recovery efforts after any type of attack and are then responsible for preparing any human remains for their dignified return first to Dover Air Force Base, Del., and then on to their final resting place, typically the home town of a deceased service member.

"We make no assumptions about anything when we do this job," Palmeri said. "We work with experts who make identifications, with medical professionals who make their determinations. Things have to be done 100 percent right."

During the exercise, the Airmen had two of their own members roleplay as personnel injured and killed in an attack. As part of the training, the deceased Airmen had to be located first. Then, assessments were made as to the possible presence of any unexploded ordnance that could have been in the area and security forces personnel were notified to provide security as needed for the recovery team.

"We work with a lot of players in the mortuary affairs role," said Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Ward, readiness noncommissioned officer for the Services Flight. "There's explosive ordnance disposal, security forces, public health, medical and we have to work with the civil engineers on all the facilities issues. Given the environment that can be involved, it can be a lot more than the process at a local funeral home."

Ward said in addition to practicing the physical skills required to do the mortuary affairs job, the flight talks with Airmen about the mental health challenges that being on such a duty can present.

"It is something you talk about and try to make people aware of the mental health services that exist," he said.

Ward said the Service Flight is fortunate to have a number of strong airmen who are able to do a number of different tasks well, including preparing for mortuary affairs duty.

"We have a core of strong junior NCOs who take pride in what they do," Ward said.