FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- More than 80 mortuary affairs leaders from across all services in the Pacific region gathered, Jan. 14-17 for the second annual Joint Mortuary Affairs Symposium, hosted by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command.
Military MA professionals have the responsibility of fulfilling the Nation’s sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen by providing care and disposition of missing and deceased personnel, including personal effects.
The symposium served as a forum for the joint MA community to come together to collaborate and develop concepts that are crucial to taking care of our Nation’s fallen comrades, particularly in times of crisis.
In addition to MA leaders from all Pacific based services, participants for this year’s symposium included representation from U.S. Central and European Commands; the Joint Mortuary Affairs Center based in Fort Lee, Virginia; and the Japan and Korea Mortuary Directors.
Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson, the Director of Logistics, Engineering and Security Cooperation (J4) for INDO-PACOM provided opening remarks for the symposium.
“These are tough problems to solve in peacetime,” said Davidson. “In war it gets even more complicated, but that’s not the time to figure it out.”
The four day symposium focused heavily on strategic and operational planning to help examine how effective the joint MA community will be in synchronizing efforts during and following an initial crisis.
In peacetime, MA services are handled at local regional service mortuaries, which can quickly be overcome during crisis and contingencies, which emphasizes the need to synchronize MA efforts across the joint force to build capacity.
The Air Force, Marine Corps and Army have personnel that have MA training and also have the capability to establish MA collection points but the Army is the only service that has an active component and dedicated MA capability that can provide back up support to other services.
According to Capt. Benjamin Fornea, Chief of Readiness and Integration for Pacific Air Forces, the mutual goal for all services is to take care of our deceased with the highest respect, which highlights the importance of understanding the capabilities of the other service components. During MA planning and execution in contingencies, one service can lean on another to assist with capability gaps.
“I think the symposium is a fantastic opportunity for the different branches to come together and have a joint vision for what this very intricate problem set is,” said Fronea. “I enjoyed getting a perspective on how the different branches treat this same mission set what capabilities certain branches have versus what gaps there are in other branches.”
Maj. Gen. Charles Hamilton, the commanding general for the 8th TSC also attended the event and emphasized that the MA mission is a joint mission, therefore the newly formed relationships at this symposium are critical to overall mission success.
“This is everybody’s fight!” said Hamilton. “We are relying on the joint community to make this happen, so the relationships formed here today are crucial and I applaud INDO-PACOM for making the event happen.”
The symposium concluded with a tour of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Based on Joint Pearl Harbor-Hickam, DPAA accounts for missing Americans who are unaccounted for from past conflicts dating back to World War II. The tour gave participants a glimpse of the vital role that DPAA performs on a daily basis.