Story by SSG Shawn Morris on 09/27/2017JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. Since the opening volleys at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, more than half-a-million American service men and women and given their lives in defense of their nation.
In modern times, honoring those U.S. service members who "gave the last full measure of devotion" begins at Dover Air Force Base, where the port mortuary is responsible for the repatriation of service members' remains.
Playing a key role in this process are military chaplains, who provide ministry to the families who come to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of their loved one's remains back to the United States.
"This ministry is one that has immediate significance in providing comfort, but for the family to look back years from now and know their loved one was given honor will continue that comfort. They will remember what they saw that visual picture of the honor that was bestowed upon their loved one," said Chap. (Maj.) T.S. Elliott, Strong Bonds Program manager for the U.S. Army Reserve's 99th Regional Support Command.
Elliott recently led a dozen Army Reserve chaplains from the northeast region in training that will qualify them to support the mortuary mission at Dover.
"The reason for this training is to meet the intent of having a contingency plan in the event that we need additional chaplain support here due to an increase in Army fatalities because of our operations overseas," explained Chap. (Maj.) Saul Castillo, chaplain for the Joint Personal Effects Depot at Dover.
"The 99th RSC has been identified specifically as being the contingency for this Dover mission, so they have a yearly training obligation," he continued. "At any given moment, we can be asked to support, so the training here leads to readiness because it addresses our state of mind are we emotionally prepared to do this mission, and are we proficient in our military training to be able to provide support to military families."
During Castillo's first year at Dover, he has worked alongside several Army Reserve chaplains who have been called in to support the mission.
"They have done very well in supporting the families of our fallen, they are very professional, and they are very caring, which are all very necessary traits," Castillo said.
Chap. (Maj.) Robert Hoskins, who attended the recent refresher training, serves with the Army Reserve's 744th Military Police Battalion and has performed several mortuary missions at Dover.
"I've always had a heart for grieving families," said Hoskins, an Iraq War veteran. "Three things always make my cry when Soldiers leave, when Soldiers return, and when Soldiers don't return.
"It hits you several times throughout the mission that these people are in a sort of denial they know that (their Soldiers) are not coming back, but they still refer to them in the present tense," he continued. "It really is that moment when (the remains) come off the plane when they realize they're never going to see their loved one alive again.
"But they get to see the honor, love and care we as a service provide to our fallen, and I think that kind of helps with the process they're going through," he added.
The Army Reserve chaplains who volunteer for this mission train annually to support Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and fulfill the nation's commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families.
"This mission is important because we are talking about Soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice," added Castillo, a California Army National Guard Soldier currently on active-duty orders. "We as a military want to make sure that we are giving due honor to those Soldiers and to their families. This mission exists so that we can honor the fallen while providing support and showing love for their families."
"That has impact that can't be measured," Elliott added.