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Soldiers to Help Identify Tsunami Victims
Teams will help identify the dead and process their personal items
By Travis Edwards / Fort Lee Strategic Outreach Officer

FORT LEE, Va., Jan. 6, 2004 – In response to the deadly tsunami that struck south Asia last week, Fort Lee is sending several teams of mortuary affairs specialists to help bring closure and proper accountability to the families of the hundreds of thousand victims of the disaster.

About 30 members of the 54 th Quartermaster Company, 49 th Special Troops Battalion, 49 th Quartermaster Group, will begin to immediately deploy to the region.

Photo, caption below.

U.S. Army Pfc. Guillermo Rosa, loads deployment gear into a vehicle Jan. 6 at Fort Lee, Virginia. Rosa and thirty other members of the 54th Quartermaster Company, 49th Quartermaster Group, the only active duty mortuary affairs unit in the Army, are preparing to deploy to support the Tsunami relief efforts in south Asia. U.S. Army photo by Travis Edwards

With the mounting death toll the teams will undoubtedly be working under a fast operational tempo in some very remote and dangerous locations, but that doesn't deter the group made up of all volunteers.

"There's no amount of mental preparation you can do to prepare yourself for the mission, but we have all the training

we need to do the job," said 18-year old Pvt. Tristian LaFollette, a member of the 54th from Washington State, who joined the Army six months ago. Disease is "a risk worth taking. I'll just have to take it in stride."

The unit is the only active unit of its type in the Army and is tasked to identify, process and remove the remains of Soldiers and civilians in combat zones around the world. They also provide the same support for disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes.

"Mortuary Affairs are a special breed of soldiers," said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald E. Holliday, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the unit. "We are trained more so than the average soldier to deal with the rigors of death."

"They dead will be difficult to identify," Holliday said since most of the countries do not have proper identification records such as DNA or fingerprinting.

Photo, caption below.

U.S. Army Pfc. Michael Sayles, 54th Quartermaster Company, 49th Quartermaster Group, Fort Lee, Virginia, fills out deployment paperwork Jan. 6. 2005. The 54th QM Co. is the only active duty mortuary affairs unit in the Army. U.S. Army photo by Travis Edwards

One of the only ways they have identifying a person, he said, is "someone coming in and saying, 'That's my brother or friend.'"

The unit currently has Soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also sent Soldiers to the Pentagon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to assist in recovery efforts.

At the time publication disaster relief officials estimate over 150,000 people were killed by the massive waves that struck southern Asia on Dec. 26.

Last Updated:
11/30/2005, Eastern Daylight Time
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