3/6/2012 By Cpl. Michele Watson , 1st Marine Logistics Group (FWD)
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan — In times of war, sacrifices must be made. For fallen Marines, the process of returning home is paved with honor, respect and dignity.
Marines with Personnel Retrieval and Processing have one of the hardest jobs in the Corps — preparing remains for their final trip home.
“It’s something [that] needs to be done,” said Lance Cpl. Hunter Foster, a PRP team member, PRP Detachment, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “It’s a very respectable and very honorable job.”
PRP Marines handle and care for all fallen service members, civilian Department of Defense personnel, U.S. Coalition Forces, Contractors, and Local Nationals within Regional Command Southwest area of operations.
The process begins when the remains arrive at the Mortuary Affairs Collection Point at Camp Bastion. A medical doctor is called in to officially announce the time of death, and a death certificate is written. PRP logs all injuries on an anatomical chart and documents all items that are brought in with the body. Each item is tagged and forwarded to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.
“The meticulous manner in which PRP Marines document the personal effects that accompany the remains of our fallen heroes might seem to be inconsequential in the big picture, but those items are sometimes the last pieces of tangible evidence that a family member can cling in remembrance,” said Capt. Clark Phillips, officer-in-charge, PRP Det., 1st MLG (Fwd). “Whether it is a watch that was passed down from father to son, or a wife’s wedding ring, that item is something a family member can embrace during the grieving process and remember their loved one.”
Sgt. William Donaldson, noncommissioned officer-in-charge, PRP Det., 1st MLG (Fwd), said the team has four hours to complete the process once the remains reach their work space. Though it may seem like a long time, each step requires a detailed review.
The team works through a checks and balance system to ensure each case is accurate. A two-person integrity validation is conducted for each individual job to ensure all documentation is correct.
“Everyone has the experience to know, not only their job, but everyone else’s job,” said Donaldson. “This shop is totally interchangeable. We are very efficient.”
All Marines at PRP are on call 24/7. Although the majority of the time remains are brought in by respective units, there are occasions when the team is sent out to retrieve fallen service members.
Staff Sgt. Armando Silva, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, PRP Det., 1st MLG (Fwd), has been on three deployments as part of a PRP detachment. He said the most important part of the job is getting all fallen heroes home.
“When a service member is killed, we strive to get them back to the states within 72 hours,” said Silva.
Occasionally, PRP Marines have time to help out in the Bastion hospital, giving them the opportunity to contribute in another arena.
“There are many people who work here that are very talented,” said Foster, 21, from Alpharetta, Ga. “You see some patients come in, and they’re in a bad situation, but the hospital personnel push them through to a full recovery.”
Foster said a big difference for PRP from other jobs is their reactive role in the Corps. Most military occupations are able to control the situations they encounter by acting ahead of time to avoid difficulties.
“At PRP, we’re reactive,” said Foster. “Once our job comes into play, there is nothing we can do to change the outcome except provide the fallen with the dignity and honor they deserve.”
The challenges associated with being a part of a PRP detachment instill a tremendous sense of pride in its members.
“I chose this job because I felt it would be a great honor and respect to take care of our fallen heroes,” said Donaldson.
At the end of the process, PRP escorts the flag-draped casket from the emergency vehicle to the aircraft waiting on the flight line. In the aircraft, Marines render a final hand salute and march away as the hero takes off for their final trip home.
“The dignity, reverence and respect with which PRP Marines care for our fallen heroes is the greatest positive affect PRP has on the Marine Corps mission in Afghanistan,” said Phillips. “In doing so, we express to the family and the nation that we mourn the loss and honor the sacrifice made by our fallen heroes.”