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NEWS | Sept. 2, 2014

Final honor: Mortuary affairs provides service to fallen comrades

By Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

When a call from the Department of the Army comes in at 4:30 a.m. notifying a Fort Eustis, Virginia mortuary affairs member of the death of an active-duty U.S. Army Soldier, they jump into action.

No matter the time of day, a member of mortuary affairs is available.

Once notified of a death, the mortuary affairs member gathers all of the details, including their next-of-kin, a will if they have one and other information on the Soldier who passed. After information is gathered, the member must arrange for a team of a chaplain and notification officer to support the Soldier's family and coworkers.

The team will meet up and await further instructions from Amber Hendricks, Army Support Activity mortuary affairs coordinator.

Once the family of the Soldier is notified, Hendricks holds a meeting with the family to provide support in any way she can.

"I always ask the notification team to tell the family about me before I get there," said Hendricks. "I want the family to be in the mindset of what I need from them, even though I know it is a difficult time."

It helps that I am an actual person they can talk to, not just someone over the phone, said Hendricks.

"I want them to trust me to do everything I can for them," said Hendricks. "I put 100 percent into every case I get, and I want the family to feel that way. So, I try to translate all of the U.S. Army regulations for them so they understand the benefits they may receive and hope to answer the questions they may have."

After speaking with the family and learning of their wishes for the Soldier regarding where and how they would like the deceased laid to rest, Hendricks gets to work.

"Every family reacts differently," said Hedricks. "I will never have the ability to match their sorrow; I just try and show empathy continuing my job."

One of the major pieces to her work is to get the Soldier a new uniform, every time. From there she will make sure the Soldier is equipped with all of the rank, awards and decorations they have earned during their career.

"I personally make sure the Soldier looks exactly as they should," said Hendricks. "I take pride in each case I come across. I meet their family; I sit on their couch, pet their dog. Why wouldn't I want to take care of them?"

Hendricks provides family members with a hand-created flag case.

This job is anything but typical, there have been many cases passed through my desk with not one being the same, said Hendricks. They can be different in how they want to be buried, or even cremated; every family is different and has different beliefs.

"Some cases I remember more than others and some cases I am able to work and move on, said Hendricks. "But there are the ones, where I find myself wondering what [that family] is doing."

Hendricks said she still receives questions from past clients, because of the connection she made with them in the beginning.

Even with this being a 24-hour-a-day job, Hendricks finds a way to leave work at work most of the time, knowing she did the best she could for every family she worked with.