Disaster team responds

Angelika Lantz
21st Theater Support Command

***image1***They’re a team waiting for an accident to happen – literally.
They remain on call, knowing they must be able to deploy quickly.
Their missions can take them to some of the most remote areas of Europe, places that can only accessed by helicopter. They are often required to hike and camp in the middle of nowhere, to work in the glaring sun reflecting off snow-covered mountains, and to make their way through mud-filled crevices in places that stretch from Albania to Iraq.

They are members of the Disaster Mortuary Response Team, and regardless of where they find themselves, they are always in a race against the clock.

“It’s not all suit and tie work,” said Mark Baldwin, U.S. Memorial Affairs Activity, Europe, mortuary specialist.

USAMAA-E belongs to the 21st Theater Support Command’s Support Operations department. With mortuaries on Landstuhl and Vicenza, Italy, it provides mortuary support to the European Command and Central Command areas of responsibility, covering 121 countries. Personnel conduct search and recovery and area clearance of World War I and World War II remains missions and provide teams for air crashes and mass fatality operations involving U.S. personnel.

In 2000, the team was called in after of the tunnel fire in Kaprun, Austria, and the bombing of the USS Cole.

According to their mission statement, team members must be deployable within six hours of notification from U.S. Army, Europe. They are airlifted to the site to advise and assist military authorities with critical incident forensic and mortuary disaster response. This includes search, recovery, tentative identification and evacuation of remains from the location.

“It’s really all about the families,” said Mr. Baldwin. “While you want to protect the legal integrity of the crash site, our focus during any mission is to recover and return the remains quickly to enable the families to have a sense of closure.

The teams cooperate with the armed services as well as a number of nations and organizations to get the job done.

At the crash site of an Air Force MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft in Albania in April, a three-person team was augmented by 17 members of the 31st Mission Support Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy, to recover the bodies of nine Airmen.

The squadron provided site command, logistics, mortuary services, transportation, lodging, fire department and explosive ordnance disposal services. Albanian Special Forces provided security and the Pennsylvania National Guard assigned to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, provided airlift support via helicopters.

The recovery operation on the remote mountain lasted 14 days and involved personnel from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Special Operations Command, Europe, EUCOM and USAREUR.

“I do what I have to do,” said Staff Sgt. Larry Johnson, DMART NCO in charge. “I am certain the families and the other servicemembers appreciate what we do and the quality of our work. That makes it all worthwhile.”