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Improvements Ongoing at Dover, Air Force Officials Say

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2012 – The Air Force already is adopting many recommendations to improve its mortuary affairs operations at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and is studying other improvements an independent committee recommended, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said here today.

Donley and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, briefed Pentagon reporters after retired Army Gen. John Abizaid presented his committee’s findings. Abizaid led a review of current operations at Dover’s port mortuary, which handles the remains of all service members.

Last year, whistleblowers charged that mortuary officials mishandled remains. A subsequent Air Force inspector general investigation found that was the case, and Air Force officials immediately put corrective actions in place and disciplined three leaders at the facility.

A further investigation by the Office of Special Counsel found that mortuary officials had retaliated against the whistleblowers. The Air Force is working with the Office of Special Counsel, and OSC officials said they expect settlement agreements to be announced shortly.

Donley and Schwartz thanked the Abizaid committee for the independent review and assessment.

Donley said that among the actions he is taking is directing that the mortuary operations commander have Uniform Code of Military Justice authority. “Providing our commander the authority to ensure the appropriate level of accountability is an essential tool in maintaining command discipline,” he said.

In addition, the Air Force secretary said, he is working to place the mortuary commander firmly in the chain of command. Now, the commander reports to a staff officer on the Air Staff at the Pentagon. Abizaid recommended the commander be placed in a two-star command.

The Air Force also is working to develop an inspection program appropriate to the unique mission at the facility, Donley said. “The first inspection under the new program is scheduled to take place this June,” he added.

Donley and Schwartz declined to comment on a portion of the Abizaid report about disposal of “nonassociable, fragmented” remains, saying they had not read that part of the report. Donley said he would look into the report and re-emphasized that the service is looking ahead and working to put in place changes to ensure the port mortuary complies with the highest standards.

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