Ode to the Mortuary Affairs Specialist - 92M
Written by, Tommy Bourlier, Former Director, Mortuary Affairs Center
They go where others fear to go. They do things that others will not do. The sights, sounds and smells of what they do, others avoid. They surround themselves with sorrow, tragedy and grief, and call it their job. They do it willingly, - "not for themselves, but for their country." The words dignity, reverence and respect are more than just words, they are their creed. They are guardians of the sacred trust that the American public has in the U.S. Armed Forces. America trusts them to care for their loved ones who give their lives in the defense of their nation, to treat them with dignity, reverence and respect and lay them down gently in fields of honor. They are the 92M, Mortuary Affairs Specialist.
For over 200 years, they or others like them have cared for America's fallen heroes. They were among the first to land at Normandy, immediately opening cemeteries to care for the fallen. Among chaos, they established order and laid their brothers down. They were there again in Korea, presiding over Operation Glory, and returning America's sons to their families. For almost a decade, they served in Vietnam providing the ultimate care for over 50,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. They were there in Jonestown, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Oklahoma City, Somalia, and Bosnia. Whenever their country has called, they have been there.
If you ask a 92M who they work for, you probably will hear "we work for the families." The family may not be their rater, but that is who they think about when they are doing the tedious identification tasks. That's whom they think about when making difficult recoveries. That's who they think about when serving with the Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CILHI), in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, recovering the fallen of that war. They serve the families that they will probably never meet, but because of a 92M, there are many families who do not have to wonder about the fate of their loved one. Because of the 92M, families may know, with certainty, that the honored dead in their cemetery plot, is in fact their loved one. That is all the reward they will ever ask for, and probably the only reward they will ever get….that they have served the family, and served them well.
It is the 92M whom you do not have to remind to remove their headgear in respect for the dead. It is the 92M who works with professional silence and respect on their fallen comrades. They are loyal to their mission, those they serve, and the United States Army. They provide dignity in an undignified situation. They revere and respect those honored dead for whom it is due. Their service is selfless, "not for themselves but for their country". It is their honor to perform this sacred duty. Their integrity is unquestioned, as it must be - they are the preservers of the sacred trust. They have the personal courage to tackle tough jobs and to even step into harms way for those they serve. They are proud to be called 92Ms.
They probably won't correct you if in good humor you refer to them as "diggers". They are used to the nervous humor so often used by others to cope with their own mortality. They have a sense of humor too, but don't ever make the mistake of dishonoring the dead. Those fallen are entrusted to them and they take it personally.
92M's are often thought of as cold and unemotional. They are human though, with feelings and emotions like everyone else, but they can't die with each remains they handle. Often they hide their true feelings, just to get through the day. Inside are scars and wounds, invisible to the eye, silent grief to be dealt with on a personal level on another day. These wounds often go untreated because it isn't macho to say it bothers them. Caregivers need care also.
Commanders of these Mortuary Affairs Specialists, take note. Due to the wartime nature of their specialty, 92Ms find it hard to stay trained in peacetime. They often find themselves assigned out of their specialty, serving as detail personnel. They find it hard to stay motivated when raking leaves. 92M's must train as does any other MOS. Use these professionals in training exercises. Let them do their jobs. Let them educate you about what they do. They will plan and conduct their own training if you will support them.
Mortuary Affairs Specialists are volunteers. They do their job because they asked to do it. They do their job because they must. America will accept nothing less. They do their job in honor to the fallen. They do their job so that never again will white markers rise from green fields of honor with the inscription "Here rests in honored glory, a comrade known but to God." Not or for themselves, but for their country.
This page was last updated on: April 1, 2014