FORT PICKETT, Va. – Army and Marine mortuary affairs personnel participated in a 12-day field training exercise that concluded Friday, building on a ground-breaking effort last year that served as an exchange of ideas and as familiarization of each other’s operational procedures.
Last year’s event, which took place in July at Fort Lee, was the first time Soldiers and Marines conducted a joint mortuary affairs training exercise. It involved the installation’s 54th Quartermaster Company and the Personnel, Retrieval and Processing Company, a Marine Corps Reserve unit based in Washington, D.C., and Smyrna, Georgia.
The 111th QM Company, also based at Fort Lee, and the 54th’s sister unit participated in this year’s exercise along with the PRP Company. Roughly 100 personnel from each unit took part in scenario-based exercise play that was situated mostly in a Military Operations in Urban Terrain training site here where personnel honed search and recovery skills.
“We did more MOUT this year than last,” said Capt. David Matthews, commander of the PRP Company. “Last year was focused more on using the MIRCS. This year, we worked more with individual squads and accomplishing other missions.”
MIRCS or Mobile Integrated Remains Collection Systems, is a refrigerated remains processing facility used by the Army and designed for expeditionary conditions.
One of the goals this year, as it was in 2014, aimed to gradually integrate Marines and Soldiers into small units to improve their interoperability capabilities, said Master Sgt. Michael Williams, the PRP operations noncommissioned officer.
“They taught us what their specialties are and we’re teaching them some of what we do more often than what they do – which is search and recovery,” he said following a search and recovery drill June 11.
Search and recovery – the process of finding, securing and transporting remains to safe areas – is a major part of Marines’ mortuary affairs missions in a theater of operations. Soldiers perform the mission as well but are more dependent on individual units to assist them.
The training, whether emphasizing Army or Marine Corps tactics, techniques and procedures, has the residual effect of helping personnel become more accustomed to what they can expect in a theater of operations where each service is likely to work together.
“The training has given me a lot more confidence in terms of what I need to do when I deploy,” said Pvt. Naomi Montanez, 111th QM Company, who has never deployed but is scheduled to do so in January.
Marine Cpl. Michael Downs, who has already deployed to Southwest Asia, said the training also increased his leadership skills.
“I’ve been given the chance to lead a squad in a search and recovery, and I believe it will help me be a better leader,” he said. “It makes me feel confident that I can go out in country and perform my mission.”
Mathews, who participated in last year’s training, said joint exercises with the Army affords his unit opportunities it doesn’t have at its home station.
“Being reservists, we don’t get to spend a lot of time together,” he said. “It’s real quick and it’s mostly classes. This actually gets us out here and learning from the Army, which does this on a regular basis.”
“We get more theory back home,” added Williams, “whereas out here, we get to put it in action and see where our disabilities are.”
The training is scheduled to take place next year as well, said Matthews.
The 111th QM Company is a subordinate unit of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade. Along with the 54th QM Company, they are the only mortuary affairs units in the active Army.
Story by Terrance Bell