Mortuary Affairs Support in Somalia
LT David B. Roath SFC Frank Napoleon
Quartermaster Professional Bulletin – Autumn 1993
Operations other than war (OOTW)-a new term in the Quartermaster dictionary. Quartermasters have had some opportunities to define and explore this new support concept. With the Army’s focus changing from forward presence to force projection, Quartermasters play exciting roles. These roles are defining and strengthening our soldiers’ skills. Combat service support (CSS) soldiers can support operations anywhere in the world from the stateside Hurricane Andrew to overseas in Somalia, for Operation Restore Hope.
Largest in History
In December 1992, President George H. Bush ordered troops to Somalia in East Africa to establish eight humanitarian relief sectors. This was the largest humanitarian assistance mission in history: a joint and combined task force of over 38,000 personnel. The Unified Task Force Somalia in Operation Restore Hope rebuilt a major infrastructure, restoring roads, airfields, seaports and public utilities destroyed by two years of civil war. Through the intervention and leadership of Unified Task Force Somalia, relief efforts of over 60 different organizations and the support of 23 nations were focused to reverse a human tragedy of famine and disease claiming the lives of thousands each day.
The military objective was twofold: (1) provide security to the aid workers ensuring distribution of food to the outlying areas and (2) rebuild the country’s infrastructure. As the Army planned for this operation, an advance team of mortuary affairs personnel deployed and set up mortuary support for forces in theater.
Personnel from the U .S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Mortuary Affairs Center, Fort Lee, V A, deployed with members of the 54th Quartermaster Company from the 240th Quartermaster Battalion. The partial mobilization of the 54th required logistical planning before deployment for this peacetime operation.
Deployment 24 December
The detachment left Fort Lee on Christmas Eve, 1992 for Mogadishu, Somalia. Upon arrival, we quickly disembarked from a C-141 with our equipment: one high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), one five-ton truck, and one 300-gallon water tank with one 5,000-pound pallet loaded with mortuary affairs supplies. Our point of contact was an Air Force major assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) J4 Deputy of Logistics Material and Services Branch. He was the mortuary liaison officer for the staff. The commander of Headquarters, U.S. Central Command, had operational responsibility for the theater. The CJTF was a subordinate command with assets from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force tasked-organized as a unified command. The 54th detachment was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarter Supply and Services Company for administrative and logistical support. After meeting with the J4 staff, L T Roath was assigned the additional duty of joint theater mortuary officer.
Concept of Operations
Discussions with the mortuary liaison officer quickly showed us the need for a mortuary support plan for Somalia. Looking at the force projection of 38,00-plus troops assigned for this peacetime effort, we developed a two-phase
plan. Our main objective was to completely recover, positively identify and transport (in a dignified and respectful manner to the final destination determined by the next of kin) the remains of deceased U.S. military personnel and others eligible by law or executive order. Also, our mission included separating non-U.S. dead, processing and returning the remains according to existing international agreements or Central Joint Mortuary Affairs Office (CJMAO) guidance.
Mortuary affairs personnel at the Theater Mortuary Evacuation Point (TMEP) processed the remains at the Mogadishu airport, a major port of embarkation. Remains processed at the TMEP were evacuated outside continental U.S./continental U.S. (OCONUS/CONUS) mortuaries for additional processing. Statements of recognition and incident reports with identification tags and photographic identification cards were sent by the unit with the remains to the TMEP .The personal effects were inventoried by the unit and returned to the rear where a summary court officer was assigned to return them to the next of kin. The unit coordinated transportation of remains or requested air evacuation initiated by the G4. The mortuary affairs personnel at the TMEP received, processed, completed identification records and ensured a completed death certificate before shipping remains out of theater. If fatalities were more extensive, we would move into the next phase.
Under phase two, units brought remains to a collection point at a geographical point that supported forward-deployed units. Three forward collection points located in Kisamaayu, Baidoa and Beledweyne were to be established. Each point was between 75 to 225 miles from Mogadishu. Seven to 10 mortuary affairs personnel at each point completed the preliminary processing and coordinated for evacuation to the TMEP. Fully staffed collection point operations required deployment of additional mortuary affairs personnel to Somalia. The TMEP conducted quality assurance checks and completed all required documentation before evacuating remains to OCONUS/CONUS mortuary facilities.
Developing procedures for handling Somali remains and then implementing those procedures was a sensitive and time-consuming task. Questions such as these came up: “What if our troops kill a Somali in a vehicle accident?” “Or shoot a Somali trying to get into a compound?” Even in a peacekeeping mission, accidents do occur. In most other countries, we rely on host nation support to process the dead. However, Somalia had no agencies, no established police force, limited hospital support and no host nation relief agency to process remains. To further complicate the situation, remains were found in our compounds, remains with no identification and decomposed beyond recognition.
We met with the senior Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer and officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Somali Red Crescent and officials from Digfer Hospital, a local Somali hospital. Local agencies knew the local customs and had a better chance of contacting the next of kin. Logistically we felt we did not have the “political status” or infrastructure to serve as the Somalis’ mortuary service. Based on discussions with JAG and a memorandum from the Central Command (CENTCOM) judge advocate (JA), we had some legal responsibility, at least for deaths that involved us either accidental or as a result of hostile/nonhostile activities. The ICRC and Red Crescent did not commit themselves to picking up remains for two reasons:
- They had less logistical capability than the U.S. forces.
- Both are relief agencies unaligned with any of one faction or clan, and the U.S. was viewed as an occupying force. Neutrality is extremely important in Somalia, where clan structure has existed for hundreds of years. Clan affiliation, by its very nature, prevents political neutrality.
Our agreement with Somali nationals was a broad stroke approach to cover many circumstances. The plan had the following three basic parts:
- Remains recovered within Mogadishu were processed by U.S. mortuary affairs personnel. Then a case folder file went with the remains for transfer to Digfer Hospital morgue. The ICRC contacted the next of kin to collect the remains or hospital personnel buried the remains.
- Remains outside of Mogadishu were handed over to a family member, clan elder or anyone who claimed the remains. If no one came forward, the remains were buried. An incident report, along with the grid coordinates of where the remains were buried, was forwarded to the G4.
- Remains found as part of clearing or excavating operations were simply buried on site. The burial site would be marked for future disposition by local agencies.
About four weeks into the operation, the Joint Task Force (JTF) Support Command G4 tasked mortuary affairs personnel to go to Mombasa, Kenya, to recover the remains of a soldier. We reported to the JTF Provide Relief Command, a separate humanitarian mission operating out of Kenya. After meeting with the JTF flight surgeon, we were tasked to develop a Mortuary Support Plan to “umbrella ” their operation under the Operation Restore Hope mortuary plan. We then contacted the U.S. consulate to determine the appropriate jurisdiction and discuss possible legal details of evacuating remains from Kenya. With authorization from Kenyan officials, we set up a local contract to use a local mortuary for our operations. Our area of operations had now expanded into all of southern Somalia and Mombasa, Kenya. The mortuary affairs team again was called to Kenya to recover the remains of another soldier and to assist in a search and recovery mission of a CH-46 helicopter with three de- ceased Marines on board.
In another phase of our operations, we worked with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the 86th Evacuation Hospital on questionable deaths or atrocity cases. We were contacted on 14 Jan 93 by the CJTF J4 and ordered to report to Kismayu where we would help investigate alleged atrocities. In two days 17 remains were disinterred, and evidence was collected. After mission completion, a Muslim cleric was contacted, and all remains were buried according to Muslim law.
On 4 May 93 Operation Restore Hope moved into the second phase under United Nations auspices as Operation Continued Hope under United Nations Somalia Phase II (UNISOM II). The United Nations took over the humanitarian mission, with the U.S. providing most of the logistical support. Under UNISOM II the mortuary affairs personnel wore blue hats and served under a United Nations Command. The TMEP mission continued, but each country was responsible for processing its own fallen. Since no other country possessed a mortuary force structure, the U.S., specifically the 54th Quartermaster Company, provided this service.
Commanders should realize early that humanitarian missions will occur again and will involve operations with other nations. We must train our soldiers on the tasks they will perform in a peacekeeping-peacemaking operation. Commanders and soldiers need to be sensitized to cultural differences that may impact operations. Also, soldiers must always be sensitive that a death of a soldier is traumatic, regardless of the nationality of the soldier.
LT David B. Roath is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and has a bachelor of science degree in mortuary science. He is also a licensed funeral director and a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course and the Mortuary Affairs Officer Course. While deployed to Somalia he served as Joint Theater Mortuary Officer J4, Theater Mortuary Officer G4, and 54th Quartermaster Company Detachment Commander. At the time that this article was written in 1993 he was Chief of Mortuary Affairs Training Branch, Mortuary Affairs Center, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia.
SFC Frank Napoleon is a graduate of the Primary Leadership Course in Bad Toelz, Germany; graduate of the Basic Noncommissioned officers Course and an Honor Graduate of the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course, both at Fort Lee, Virginia. His previous assignments include overseas Army Mortuaries; U.S. Army Escort Detachment, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, where he served as Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of a Search and Recovery Team conducting missions for unaccounted personnel from the Vietnam conflict in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He recently served as NCOIC of a Theater Mortuary Evacuation Point in Mogadishu, Somalia. During his career, SFC Napoleon has participated in the processing of remains from the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; the Grenada invasion; and the remains from the air crash of members of the 101st Airborne Division in Gander, Newfoundland. At the time that this article was written in 1993 he was an instructor and writer at the Mortuary Affairs Center, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia.