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Joint Mortuary Support in Operation Joint Endeavor

David B. Roath  CPT Robert A. Jensen
Quartermater Professional Bulletin – Summer 1996

Europe’s longest conflict since World War II started with a flare-up in Yugoslavia’s northwestern tip. It was enough to shock many. Much worse was to come. Exactly 1,606 days passed between those first shots in the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia and the agreement on the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) on 21 Nov 95 in Dayton, OH. More than 200,000 people were dead or missing, and more than 3 million forced from their homes.

The long-awaited GFAP was signed by representatives of the Former Warring Factions (FWF) of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republic of Croatia, and the Bosnian Serbs on 14 Dec 95 in Paris, clearing the way for the most massive deployment of troops in Europe since World War II. The movement of tanks and troops into the frozen mountains of Bosnia began in earnest on 15 Dec 95, G-day. By mid-February the deployment was complete. Over 60,000 service members and civilians staged mostly in former communist military bases make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) peace Implementation Force (IFOR). This was NATO’s most ambitious military maneuver in its 46-year existence.

Thousands of land mines, fire bombs, unexploded ordnance, and undisciplined regular and irregular forces occupy the areas that NATO patrols. With the peace agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia are no longer a wide-open combat zone. However, the war-scarred countryside still holds danger for the IFOR.

Theater Perspective

All land forces fall under the command of the NATO Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps with headquarters in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The commanding general is from the United Kingdom.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into three geographical combatant command areas. Each area has a lead multi-national division (MND) and several troop-contributing nations (TCN). The three commands are: MND-North, the US Sector; MND-Southeast, the French Sector; and MND-Southwest, the United Kingdom Sector.

The logistics support structure falls under the commander for support, a major general from the US. It is based in Zagreb, Republic of Croatia. Croatia is further identified as the communication zone forward (COMMZ FWD).

Theater Mortuary Affairs Support

The original theater plans identified mortuary affairs solely as a national responsibility. Only adequate for deaths involving one nation’s soldiers, the original theater plans failed to anticipate and provide guidance for situations that exceed the scope of national responsibilities. Such situations include mass fatality events involving more than one nationality, support to governmental and nongovernmental organizations, care and repatriation of deceased personnel from FWF countries coming into IFOR
control, and politically sensitive fatality events.

To resolve these shortfalls and any support requirements for participating nations, a Joint Mortuary Affairs Board was organized. Each nation briefed its own support plans, response capabilities, shortfalls and support it could provide to the joint board.

Major Concerns

Major concerns of all participating nations were the following three points:

The need to ensure that all information about deaths was tightly controlled and released only by the nation suffering the loss.

The recognition that the NATO Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 2070, used by the original planners, was out of date and focused on temporary burials. Each nation’s representatives to the board stated no temporary burial would be approved.

The requirement that all fatalities would be accorded full military honors, preferably with
representatives from all nations.

Several key issues were left unresolved. No written support agreements were made. Guidance for issues exceeding the scope of national responsibilities was discussed, but most representatives felt action was not necessary.

Unfortunately, in many nations, mortuary affairs experience is based on immediate burial in the theater of operations. For many nations, Operation Joint Endeavor was the first operation in which deceased personnel were evacuated home.

US Mortuary Affairs Support

In all operations, US mortuary affairs support has been based on providing a flexible and executable plan for the swift, technically proficient search, recovery, processing and evacuation of deceased personnel and their accompanying personal effects. For this goal, support and responsibility are divided among various commands.

Unified Commander Responsibilities

Unified commanders are responsible for administering and providing mortuary affairs support within their geographical areas of responsibility. In peace enforcement operations, the combatant commander is responsible for providing detailed technical guidance and oversight of mortuary affairs support. Memorandum of Policy No. 16, Joint Mortuary Affairs Policy states:

The commander of a unified command is responsible for control and coordination of mortuary affairs support in the commander’s Area Of Responsibility (AOR ) {IAW Title 10, United States Code, section 164(c)}. This responsibility includes delineating service component responsibilities within the AOR; giving authoritative direction on mortuary affairs to all assigned or attached forces; assigning responsibilities, tasks and assets; and organizing commands and forces as necessary to execute the mortuary affairs mission.

Also, the commander of unified commands (less nongeographical commands) will establish a Joint Mortuary Affairs Office (JMAO) within commands for oversight of mortuary affairs support. During war, peace enforcement, mass fatality or politically sensitive incidents, the commander of the unified command will determine if, when, and for how long the JMAO will be activated.

Staff Planning

Upon notification of Operation Joint Endeavor, the US Commander-in-Chief, Europe assigned a logistics officer to serve as the JMAO on the J4 staff. The US European Command JMAO assigned the executive agency for mortuary affairs to the Army component commander at Headquarters, US Army, Europe (USAREUR). The USAREUR Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, transportation and troop support was tasked with oversight of the mortuary affairs’ program. Planners from various levels of commands conducted a mission analysis.

During this analysis, the staff officers, civilians and noncommissioned officers looked at bilateral, unilateral or mutual cooperation agreements between the foreign governments and NATO partners participating in Operation Joint Endeavor. Based on the analysis, a staff estimate was prepared and changes to the logistics annex to the operations plan were implemented. Based on the mission analysis, a functional area analysis was developed to cover the operational, tactical and strategic areas of the operation.

Functional Area Analysis

A key element to any deployment is a functional area analysis to determine the right mix of combat service support and combat troops to support the geographical commanders’ mission. A timeline was developed, based on the Joint Chiefs of Staff alert order, in order to allow the staffs time to coordinate and develop a mortuary support plan.

Upon signing of the peace agreement 14 Dec 95, the 325th Airborne Battalion Combat Team, an Allied Forces South Quick Reaction Force unit, would secure the Tuzla Air Base, soon to be the US and MND-N headquarters. The main body of Task Force Eagle, as the US contingent is called, would occupy MND-N by rolling across the Sava River from staging areas in Hungary and Croatia.

The functional area analysis required the staff to analyze the Time-Phased Force and Deployment Data (TPFDD) to see if the force list had the correct mixture of combat, combat support, and combat service support grouped in the correct force modules. The elements of force modules are linked together or uniquely identified so they may be extracted or adjusted as entities in the TPFDD to enhance flexibility and the operation plan’s usefulness during the deployment.

The TPFDD is broken down into three parts: force requirement routing data, force unit
identification, and force movement characteristics. After the analysis is complete, the data is entered into the Joint Operational Planning and Execution System. This system forms the foundation of the US conventional command and control system used to monitor, plan and execute mobilization, deployment and sustainment activities in crises and war.

Mortuary Affairs Operational Areas Tactical Areas

The concept for support in the tactical area of operations (Bosnia) and the COMMZ FWD
(Croatia) was based on deploying the 54th Quartermaster Company (Mortuary Affairs) from the continental US (CONUS) to establish a US Army Theater Mortuary Evacuation Point (USA TMEP) at Tuzla Air Base. The detachment, commanded by the 54th Quartermaster Company’s commander, would provide direct support to Task Force Eagle. The detachment gave general support to other MNDs and TCNs on a case-by-case basis. This detachment of 14 soldiers (one mortuary affairs officer with additional skill identifier 4V, 12 92M (Mortuary Affairs Specialists) and one mechanic) would serve as the focal point for mortuary affairs support in the joint tactical area of operations.

The commander, in addition to commanding the detachment, would serve as the theater mortuary affairs officer on the 1st Armored Division’s G4 staff. The mortuary affairs officer’s responsibilities would include coordinating with other national support elements (NSEs) and TCNs in-theater to ensure mortuary support plans and agreements were established. In the event of a mass fatality incident, mortuary affairs personnel would deploy to the incident site and conduct search, recovery and evacuation operations from that location.

The Concurrent Return Program was placed into effect. This program provided for the search, recovery and prompt evacuation to the USA TMEP, with further evacuation to Landstuhl Mortuary in Germany for embalming and shipment to the port mortuary or direct shipment to the receiving US funeral home.

Support/Staging Areas

The concept for support at the initial staging base was to deploy mortuary affairs personnel assigned to 21st Theater Army Area Command (Forward). Their mission was to operate a mortuary affairs collection point (MACP). They would also provide reinforcing support to the USA TMEP in Tuzla.

Any deaths that occurred in the operational area would be evacuated by aircraft to the MACP at Tactical Assembly Area (TAA) Harmon. The intermediate staging base mortuary affairs MACP personnel would coordinate for evacuation of deceased personnel directly to the mortuary outside the continental US (OCONUS) located at Lundstuhl, Germany. Again, the Concurrent Return Program was placed into effect for evacuation of remains to CONUS.

Support Phases:

Deployment Phase

During the deployment phase of Operation Joint Endeavor, commanders of the areas where the loss of personnel occurred were responsible for the search, recovery and evacuation of remains and personal effects to mortuary affairs facilities at TAA Harmon and Tuzla Air Base. With the bulk of troop movements occurring in the middle of the harsh Balkan winter into harsh terrain made worse by the millions of land mines, leaders decided to establish the USA TMEP no later than 1 Jan 96, well ahead of the main troop movements.

Sustainment Phase

Mortuary affairs facilities in the tactical and operational areas would receive and process all US deceased personnel. On a case-by-case basis, mortuary affairs personnel would provide reinforcing support to other NSEs or TCNs. Processing included completion of the following tasks according to procedures outlined in Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Mortuary Affairs in Joint Operations (JTTP-4-06):

Receiving section screens all remains for unexploded ordnance, explosives and other
hazardous items.  Completes DD Form 1077 (Collection Point Register of Remains). Confirms the actual number of remains delivered to the mortuary facility.
Completes two evacuation tags for each remains received. Records on the DD 1077.
Moves the remains to the X-ray station where remains are X-rayed for unexploded ordnance. (Note: TMEP task only.)  Initiates an original and duplicate individual case folder file.  Creates an alphabetical index card with basic information on the deceased.
Checks to see if a DD Form 2064 (Overseas Certificate of Death) was present. If not
present, coordinates with the medical officer to complete an Overseas Certificate of Death.
Fingerprints all remains using DD Form 894 (Record of Identification Processing).
Takes footprints of all pilots recovered from air crashes using AF Form 137 (Footprint
Record).  Gathers and inspects all official military and personal identification media and records on DD Form 890 (Record of Identification Processing Effects and Physical Data).
Completes DD Form 1076 (Military Operations-Records of Personal Effects of Deceased
Personnel).
Takes two sets of pictures of each remains using a self-developing film camera.
Places the original completed case folder file in a plastic moisture-proof bag and places
securely on the remains in the remains pouch.
Places the remains awaiting evacuation in the refrigeration container.
Coordinates for evacuation of remains.
Completes DD Form 1387-2 (Special Handling Data/Certification).
Completes DD Form 1387 (Military Shipment Label).
Completes AF Form 127 (Traffic Transfer Receipt).
Completes DD Form 1075 (Convoy List of Remains).
Places remains in transfer case pack with 40 pounds of ice and coordinates with the Air
Terminal Operations Center to evacuate remains to the OCONUS mortuary.

Out-of-Sector Support

Although the main body of US forces are located in the MND-N Sector, several hundred US personnel are stationed in many areas throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. The USA TMEP was tasked to provide mortuary affairs support to all US Forces and had to develop and implement a support plan for those US forces.

Support requirements did not justify the formation of additional MACPs. In the event of a fatality in a out-of-sector area, a team from the USA TMEP would fly to the area and recover, process and evacuate the deceased.

Because weather in the Balkans is unpredictable and often adverse for flying, mortuary affairs supplies and equipment were prepositioned in several key areas. Logistics personnel were then identified, tasked with oversight of these supplies and given basic information on actions to take before the arrival of mortuary affairs personnel.

Each mortuary affairs mission is unique: no death is the same. Solid plans that anticipate dealing with all fatalities must be developed. Such planning will help prevent problems and embarrassments to the US government. No matter what type of mission in war or peace, mortuary affairs support plans must be included as part of the logistics planning.

Planners do not like to think about death. However, soldiers and civilians die. Tragically, Operation Joint Endeavor has already claimed several lives. By having workable plans in place, trained personnel responded quickly and professionally to each of these deaths. Proper investigations were completed while maintaining the dignity and respect for all casualties.

About the authors

David B. Roath is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, with a bachelor of science degree in mortuary science. He is also a licensed funeral director in Minnesota and Virginia and a graduate of the Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course, Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Mortuary Affairs Officer Course. He has served as a Joint Theater Mortuary Officer J4, Theater Mortuary Officer G4, the 54th Quartermaster Company Detachment Commander, and Chief of the Mortuary Affairs Center’s Training Branch and the Joint Services Integration Branch. He is currently serving as the Deputy Director of the Mortuary Affairs Center, US Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia. He served as US Army, Europe Executive Agent for Mortuary Affairs, Operation Joint Endeavor.

CPT Robert A. Jensen is a Distinguished Military Graduate of California State University, Fresno, with a bachelor of science degree in criminology. He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course, Pershing Officer Course, and Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course, as well as the Mortuary Affairs Officer Course. His previous assignments include Fire Control Officer; Support Platoon Leader; Group S4; Assistant Brigade S4; Officer in Charge and Senior Military Officer, Mortuary Affairs Center, Fort Lee, Virginia; Joint Mortuary Affairs Officer, Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti); Theater Mortuary Affairs Officer, Operation Joint Endeavor (Bosnia-Herzegovina); and Company Commander of the 54th Quartermaster Company (Mortuary Affairs), Fort Lee, Virginia.