CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- Service members who make the ultimate sacrifice while serving in a combat zone are known as Angels. Those troops who lose their lives on the battlefield are brought home so they may be honored and laid to rest.
It is the job of the Marines with the Personnel Retrieval and Processing Detachment, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) to take care of the Angels and return them to their families.
"Our primary job is to recover the remains of fallen troops, bring them back, inventory their gear and send them home," said Cpl. Matthew A. Sarkis, mortuary affairs specialist with PRP, 1st MLG (FWD).
There are a few different ways they can retrieve the Angels, explained Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Barnett, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Mortuary Affairs Collection Point Bastion, PRP, 1st MLG (FWD). They can receive the Angels from the medical facility or from the unit directly via air or ground transport. The unit can also request PRP come to the incident site in order to conduct the recovery of Angels.
Mortuary affairs specialists are proud to be able to uphold adage "No Marine left behind."
"This is probably one of the most honorable missions a Marine can have in the Marine Corps," said Chief Warrant Officer Kim T. Adamson, officer in charge of the MACP Bastion and Dwyer, PRP, 1st MLG (FWD).
Even though it's difficult to see one of their own make the ultimate sacrifice, for Sarkis, 26, from Crofton, Md., it's an honor to be able to send the Angels back home with honor and dignity, while bringing closure to their families.
"I always thought that if it was my child over here that had died, I would want somebody like me to take care of him and send him home to me," said Adamson, 56, from Salt Lake City. "That's how much of a connection I have with this job."
The process in which an Angel is taken from a forward operating base to the aircraft flown back to the United States is called a dignified transfer, explained Barnett, 36, from Frederick, Md. As a show of respect to the Angel, service members arrive at the flight line and form up on each side of the ramp leading to the aircraft. Prior to loading the Angel on the plane, the Chaplain gives a final prayer to the Angel.
"From there, we would carry the transfer case from our vehicle to the plane, this is known as the rendering of honor," said Barnett. As the Angel is carried to the aircraft, Marines pay their final respects by saluting the transfer case as the Angel passes by, he added.
"It's difficult to see the remains of the people in the same uniform as us, who believe in the same thing we believe," said Adamson. "You have to detach yourself from the emotional part of doing the job or you'll never get through it."
Embodying the phrase "Once a Marine, always a Marine," the Fallen Angels have served honorably, for which their sacrifices will never be forgotten. These mortuary affairs specialists are proud and honored to be able to bring their fallen brothers and sisters home to their final resting place.