Proper Dignity and Respect

Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne has directed changes in the cremation process for the remains of fallen warfighters from Afghanistan and Iraq that come through the mortuary at Dover AFB, Del., the US military’s single point for repatriating service members who die overseas. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said during a press briefing May 9 that Wynne has ordered the mortuary to use only crematory facilities that are co-located with licensed funeral homes, and he has directed that there is a military presence during the process at these facilities. The Dover Port Mortuary, since it lacks a crematory, has been contracting crematory services at two facilities in the Dover area, one of which is not co-located with a funeral home and processes both human and pet remains—in separate, dedicated incinerators, but still under the same roof. A soldier currently assigned to the Pentagon visited this crematory to be present for a fallen comrade and reported to his chain of command that he believes the site is “insensitive and inappropriate,” Morrell said. Apparently, as Morrell explained, it is common practice for a crematory to have signage indicating only that it is a pet crematory, since pet owners go directly to the facility rather than to a funeral home. Morrell said that while there is “absolutely no evidence whatsoever” at this point that any human remains have been mistreated, “the site and signage are insensitive and entirely inappropriate for the dignified treatment of our fallen.” The matter rose to the level of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has also directed Pentagon personnel czar David Chu to review DOD’s policies for handling remains. Wynne has directed Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, vice chief of staff, to “aggressively follow up” on these actions, Morrell said. Also at the press briefing, the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, said that he and Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, Air Mobility Command commander and the one who oversees Dover operations, would travel to Dover May 10 to look into the situation first-hand.