The Unseen Heroes: Inside the Role of a Mortuary Affairs Specialist at AFMES

4/29/24 (Mon)

AFMES Mortuary Affairs Specialists

Photo By Staff Sgt. Alexandra Minor | U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Specialists (92M) assigned to the Armed Forces Medical... read more



Story by Staff Sgt. Alexandra Minor 

Armed Forces Medical Examiner System  


sharethis sharing button

Tucked away behind the walls of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) are the unsung heroes known as Mortuary Affairs Specialists (92M). These individuals undertake one of the most demanding, yet rewarding, roles in the U.S. Army. They handle the responsibility of caring for the fallen with dignity, reverence, and respect.

The life of a 92M at AFMES is one of constant motion. Their duties include but are not limited to assisting with autopsies, conducting eviscerations, inventorying specimens, and photographing each case. Their days are never predictable. Whether traveling to remote locations or working within the confines of the AFMES facility, their work is essential to the process of medicolegal death investigations. “We assist medical examiners in finding the cause and manner of death. Our photography here at AFMES, from start to finish, tells a story which allows families in distress to find closure for their fallen loved ones,” said Specialist Noah Hughes, Mortuary Affairs Specialist.

Travel is a significant part of their duties, with soldiers spending a considerable portion of their time on the road. These road warriors travel for cases a couple of days out of the week, requiring adaptability and resilience to complete the mission. Death is unpredictable, so these soldiers work weekend and holidays to ensure the success of their mission. The reality of the job may differ from initial expectations, but a commitment to excellence and professionalism remains constant with those assigned to AFMES.

“Open communication is essential. If these troops have a problem. They have to trust that they can come to me. Taking care of people is our responsibility as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO),” says Sergeant First Class Dimitry Razell, Senior Mortuary Affairs NCO. The Senior Mortuary Affairs NCO oversee the operations, ensuring that each task is executed with precision and care. Training is comprehensive, encompassing everything from evisceration techniques, forensic photography, filing Defense Travel System (DTS) vouchers, performing basic histology tasks, and coordination with field grade officers Medicolegal Death Investigators.

Each member undergoes a six-module training program created by SFC Razell, and established by Sergeant Major Daniel Davenport, Joint Mortuary Affairs Center (JMAC), It is funded by AFMES, and mirrors training the Mortuary Affairs Specialists receive upon arrival at the facility. Adequate preparation is key to success in the role of a 92M. “While training is provided upon arrival, possessing an open mind and a willingness to learn are essential characteristics for a 92M working at AFMES,” said Corporal Mekhi Maisonet, Mortuary Affairs Specialist.

This program established the Personal Development Skill Identifier (PDSI) A1T Autopsy Technician. This skill identifier is designed to identify soldiers who have already completed training at AFMES and are capable of aiding with mass fatality events. Not all 92Ms are trained for the roles performed at AFMES. They learn how to perform duties specific to AFMES upon their arrival. This new identifier not only provides 92Ms with something they can use on their resume after service but provides AFMES with surge capability for emergency situations.

The nature of the work can be emotionally taxing, requiring proactive measures to maintain mental well-being. Engaging in hobbies, socializing with colleagues, intermural sports, and seeking support when needed are crucial strategies for overcoming the challenges that come along with their role. “Maintaining my well-being was difficult for quite some time, but I’ve found my methods. After every case, either the same day or the next day, I volunteer at the local animal shelter walking dogs, laying with them, grooming the animals, and just finding peace within them. I invite coworkers out on the weekends because no one knows what I go through more than the people who do the same job as me. We find peace within each other. Finding new places to try and making the most of our time off,” says Specialist Kayla-Porsche Harley, Mortuary Affairs Specialist.

When faced with challenges, camaraderie flourishes among the Mortuary Affairs Specialists at AFMES. Clear communication, mutual respect, and a shared sense of purpose bind the team together, ensuring each task is executed with precision and care.

The role of a Mortuary Affairs Specialist at AFMES is one defined by sacrifice, compassion, and dedication to duty. Though their work often goes unnoticed by the public, their contributions to the mission are immeasurable, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of those they serve. As guardians of the fallen, they embody the highest ideals of service and honor, ensuring that the memory of each service member is preserved with dignity, reverence, and respect.

Return to the news homepage