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Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 27 - Military Mortuary Operations

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Nicole Farnham, Maj. Joseph Marxsen, Ms. Christine Bushby

Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.

Lt. Col. Nicole Farnham (00:00:00): Thank you for joining us today. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Farnham, and we are here to have, I believe, the DoD's first podcast about Military Mortuary Operations. So, venturing to step out there on a limb and say that this is the first. It is an important topic. And I have two incredible people who are joining me today and I'm so pleased to introduce them and hopefully you'll give a introduction and a brief bio, Major Markson.

Major Joseph Marxsen (00:00:33): Hey, thank you for having me. I am Major Joseph Marxsen. I'm an Army logistician. So, we focus a lot of planning efforts towards Mortuary Affairs. Operations have not had the chance of executing any of the plans. But I'm versed in planning operations.

Ms. Christine Bushby (00:00:51): And I'm Christine Busby. Civilian here at Maxwell and I've been a Mortuary Technician for a sum total of going on 16 years. I've been a mortician for almost 27 years.

Farnham (00:01:04): And my name is, as I said, Nicole Farnham. I am an Air Force Personnelist and trained in Mortuary Affairs and was deployed to Dover DE as a California Air National Guardsman. I was also deployed to Los Angeles and Riverside counties during the COVID pandemic and did Mortuary then. Major Marxsen and I were put in contact by a professor here because we both wrote papers on Mortuary Operations and to improve Mortuary Operations in the military, Christine and I were just talking the history of Mortuary Operations, and I think it's fascinating how it extends back to the Civil War, right?

Bushby (00:01:54): Correct, Lincoln. I’ve got to look up his name. The gentleman that prepared Lincoln actually laid the groundwork for many of the Confederate and Union soldiers to be repatriated back to their families by doing the involvement process. And a lot of times it was done on the battlefield. You know, it wasn't like they had funeral homes pop up. This was a very new thing. And so, to get them back to give their family some closure, think about Lincoln. It took them two weeks to get from DC to Springfield and they made stops along the way. The embalmer didn't have the knowledge we have now. When we go through Mortuary schooling, it's almost like a surgical process when you go back to the prep room, and he probably would have, like, hypo’d, as we would say, hypo’d the main extremities, versus fully raising the vessel, draining the blood.  That sort of…it would have been very rudimentary, but enough to last.

Farnham (00:02:53): So important to talk about Mortuary and the role it plays in the military because as long as there's been people, there's been death. [Bushby: Correct] It really is important to think about and President Lincoln was so huge in that it really changed how the military and our country dealt with death. And you know, throughout history, Americans have cared for their war dead.

During the American Revolution and throughout the War of 1812, service members were typically buried in churches or in their family cemeteries, and prior to the Civil War there was no standard system to identify, care or process decedents, and the first time in the military that there was a process established was during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

Major Francis Dade, he led, I believe it was 107 infantrymen through the Florida Wilderness and they were ambushed, and it took actually 48 days to find the remains. And then they were temporarily interred until after the war where they were exhumed and sent to St. Augustine, and that is the first military cemetery, so it even predates Arlington.

Marxsen (00:04:15): I believe it's a very important topic because it's something that isn't spoken about a lot. It's always an afterthought. It's become a very common part of everyone's lives. We grow old, we die, we take care of the dead, we know, but we get closure and move on in some sort. But it's not the same process for us as uniformed military members, especially if we start looking at preparing for what we all hear of Great Power Competition, large-scale combat operations, conflict with a near-peer.

So, when we look at going to war thousands of miles away, separated by geographical bodies of water that take time and effort to cross fighting a conflict that is comparative to ourselves, things are not going to be a hand wave and not gonna be what we've seen in the past 20 to 25 years. Because when we look at even 40 years, or four decades of doing things in a general manner, we get very comfortable.

And what perpetuated that comfort is, you know, cinema. Everybody sees that soldier falls in combat in a foreign nation and very rapidly a flag drawn casket arrives on the on the East Coast, there's senior delegates, there's even the president of the United States there to watch that service member come home because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. We see that. We kind of picture that when we go to the instant thought of, oh, my service member, you know, may pass in combat, the reality of things is that it's not going to be able to be executed when we go to that sort of competition.

Farnham (00:05:45): We've always brought dignity, honor, and respect to our decedents. That's the price paid and the promise that our government, you know, to bring our decedents home. Think about when, early into the 2000s, when we all of a sudden were able to take pictures of transfer cases with flags. And we were showing, and that was a level of transparency that our government brought in.

And it is absolutely the right thing to do. You know, our government has been so forward thinking in how we bring our decedents home. We really want to have this conversation to say we need to look at the exposure that we provide and talk about the realities of where would this go in large-scale combat operations. I think you bring in an excellent mindset to that we were talking earlier when I first got here to Maxwell and went and was interviewing advisors to try to find an advisor to help me, you know, give me that feedback and mentoring. I sat with an advisor who is a retired military member, and he was a fighter pilot in England.

And after I told him the paper that I wanted to do, Christine, you and I had met several times and I had. I had graphed out the problem and I went in and had this very focused conversation with him and his first words to me about my paper that I wanted to do my research, that I wanted to do.  He said, frankly, it’s ghoulish, I don’t know why you would want to write that.  And I was devastated in that moment.  I was absolutely devastated.  I had to just kind of you know…OK, why?  Why did he say that?  Where are we going?

And continuing the conversation with him, it turned out that when he was the person that I saw was this retired macho fighter pilot, but he was a father and in England he and his wife had children and one of his children died unexpectedly as a teenager, and so they flew his teenage son back to the US and he had those expectations that you were just talking about, Major Marxsen, and he had those that he thought, and no one told him.

He thought that his son was going to come back in a transfer case with the flag, Dover and there was going to be somebody there and there was going to be a lot of people. And that's not what happened because most people don't know that when we try to expedite remains back home to provide this closure as soon as possible, oftentimes, that means a contract with the civilian provider, and that might be somebody like FedEx, UPS, a civilian contracted plane, in the cargo hold in a cardboard box and he had no idea, and it was devastating. I mean, even decades later, when I'm sitting there talking with him, he was carrying that pain. I couldn't be mad at him for what he said because he was just, he was expressing that grief.

Do you see that, Christine?

Bushby (00:08:51): I do and a lot of it is in managing people's expectations. As difficult as the time it is to talk to families about their loved ones and how we get them from point A to point B, you still have to have those frank, tactful discussions that, you know, you can make decisions on this end that he could go, you know, prepared. 

In England, it would have been a coffin versus a casket instead of just an air tray. There really is no other way other than boat to get them. I mean, aircraft that's…they're always in the cargo bay there. There's no other option unless they want to go by boat, that would be unrealistic and probably outrageously expensive. So, I mean, a lot of it is managing expectations, but if you don't talk about this, who will? You know, who will have these discussions regardless of being told that they're ghoulish? His notion, like you said, came from personal experience, not his military experience, right? It it's a lot of it is managing, managing people's expectations and being honest and upfront with them.

Farnham (00:09:57): Major Marxsen and you and I were talking about large-scale Mortuary operations, and what that looks like, and conceptually, we established a framework of 1,000 decedents a day for 30 days.  You know, how on Earth? But when you look at history and when you look at Gettysburg, when you look at World War Two losses and World War One losses.

Bushby (00:10:22): I mean, they buried them where they fell. Gettysburg. Families before they formally established the cemetery, they…that was it. They buried them where they fell, and families would go to try and claim their remains. That was before any embalming or anything became the norm, and can you imagine Gettysburg in the summertime? Yeah. People coming to see their loved ones. The various states of decomposition, and trying to figure out who is who, and is that my son?

Farnham (00:10:48): And going back to what you said, Major Marxsen, with the expectation and what we've done for the past 20, 25 years of the transfer case in the ice, how do you see that in a large-scale Mortuary Operations construct?

Marxsen (00:11:03): Ma'am, keeping the same framework. Really, we're talking about Asia at this point. Large body of water between the continental United States and where a mass casualty event would happen. And when we look at 1,000 casualties over any Asian archipelago chain of islands, mainland that you want to name, we've got sparsity in our points of death at that point. Having one central location to collect all the decedents is going to be tough. And ma'am, you want to talk about Civil War, Gettysburg. We buried them where they fell. When we are operating in several different countries, I personally feel that we are maybe a little bit different than in the Civil War, that is no longer an option for us to bury them where they fall.

Bushby (00:11:41): Oh, absolutely.

Marxsen (00:11:44): And if it was an option, it's something that government agencies have to pre-approve before, well in advance beforehand. So, we would like to at all possible prevent that because families can't come to see if their son, if that's their son, their daughter, uncle, mother, father, whatever it may be. So, I think when we look at planning these operations of 1,000 people a day, we've got the expectation that we have transfer cases, that a decedent would be placed in a human remain pouch. Think of it as zipped-up body bag. Yes, that human remains pouch is placed in a transfer case, and the transfer case is what's flown home.

If we just do rough math, 1,000 decedents a day, each decedent needs 90 lbs. of ice to even start. If you want to talk about multiple-day trips, we may need to refresh said ice, but just giving them a basic load of 90 lbs. apiece. Think of how much ice we need on all of those islands at all of those different locations to start with. [Bushby: It’s just a hasty exit.]  It’s doing the best we can.

And I think you want to talk about the exposure and giving who tells these messages to the families, and to those soldiers, to the stakeholders that are going to fight the future war. Well, you're right. It's us. It's the people who have to think about these kinds of things.

And it's no fault to that fighter pilot, ma'am. He just had no experience, no idea. Didn't know the process, but those of us who deal with it, I believe it's our obligation to tell the young soldiers. Now you stay in long enough, you go, and you fight this fight. It's not going to look this way. And it's not your fault for not knowing any different. It's our job to tell you what we expect to see, and it’s tough. 

It's tough to say that we may have to remove your remains from a theater without ice, that your remains will decompose faster that what comes over here might not be what you expect. It might not be what your family expects, but it’s the best we can do under the conditions for the war that we’re fighting in, and making sure that culturally we accept that new standard.

Farnham (00:13:39): When we talk about responsibilities and openness, and I'm so thankful that we have government, that, and military, that allows us to have this freedom of discussion and is supportive of us in coming up with potential solutions to problems that we see in a large scale, Mortuary Operations environment.  We have to have these conversations, they’re uncomfortable, they’re awkward, and it isn’t the ideal solution, but combat remains--they're not going to be viewable, and this isn't…we aren't going to be in a situation ,potentially, if we were to be in a large scale combat operation and had casualties to have enough transfer cases, to have enough ice, to bring them home within 72 hours.

Marxsen (00:14:10):  Absolutely.

Bushby (00:14:26): I've never deployed, so I can't really speak to your expertise, but primarily as it stands now as a land then air transfer. [Farnham: Correct.] If you think about the Pacific and the islands, would this take in the Navy, could they offer, really a joint recovery operation, taking them by sea, I mean, even if it’s to get them out to a safer location to be flown off?

Farnham (00:14:49): I don't have experience with Naval Mortuary affairs other than working with Naval Morticians. One of the things I found as a National Guard member working with and working for civilian authorities during the COVID operations is that a lot of entities don’t have the Mortuary capabilities and the morgue space, the capacity on what they can do, and the rules.  Major Marxsen, you and I had a fascinating discussion about the differences in internment and burial at sea.

Marxsen (00:15:26): We did, ma'am. You want to talk about, we're going to have a joint fight. Every service is going to be a part of this, bringing their fallen home. I dug a bit into the regulation, and you see that each service, and by service, I mean Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, we all have a different capacity, where the Army is typically the lead.

We have the greatest processing capacity, naval ships do have a storage capacity. It would not be suitable to rely on the Navy solely for that expected 1,000 casualties per day. In the scenario that we were running, but one thing I did find very interesting is that a ship’s Captain, or an O-6 is authorized burial at sea in a combat environment and does not need the express approval of the geographic combatant commander. 

To where an Army 0-6, which would be a Colonel, does not have that same authority, it takes the highest ranking four-star general of the theater in conjunction with government agencies to bury a soldier in the ground. Those are extreme circumstances, and when you've got capacities exceeded on a boat or a ship and the ship isn't going to port anytime soon because they're in a major fight.

Farnham (00:16:27): Oh, absolutely.

Marxsen (00:16:33): Right, you've got contamination issues, things of that nature, I think those ships and their unique mission set would not be able to pull U.S. Navy vessels, but you will want to talk about contracted air, maybe there's contracted vessel capability that we could use in the Pacific theater. I think there are a lot of ways of getting the remains from the Pacific theater to the United States. It is just nowhere near as fast as what we've all lived through.

Farnham (00:17:00): I find that interesting. We talk about, once again, the support that the civilian industrial complex brings to the table in a combat operation situation. One thing that you were talking about that is so important is understanding the differences in authorities and the differences between our services. Definitely what makes us so amazing as a military, and we’re sitting right here as an example.  I’m an Air Force, you know, Air National Guard Officer, and Ms. Busby, you’re a civilian?  [Bushby: Yes, ma’am.] And Major Marxsen, and you’re in active-duty Army.  So, it’s that joint construct that really brings depth and strength to what we so.  But, sometimes, it’s those little nuances and differences that can make us wonder, OK, well, how would that really be exercised, and what would happen?

Marxsen (00:17:47): Yeah, absolutely.

Farnham (00:17:48): What was the most amazing thing you learned about in your paper?

Marxsen (00:17:52): The most amazing thing I've thought of is the number of options that we have to bring the fallen home, and everybody says most military members say we'll never have enough time, soldiers, or money. With that, I think it would be easier, but the capacity that we have within the joint service is larger than I expected.

However, I don't think it's enough. I think the most interesting thing that I found is that bridging the communication between the Department of Defense and the service members and their families is going to be harder than if we were to just buy and execute the operation ourselves more. I think that that cultural shift takes more time than was expected.

When we started some of my other studies in ACSC, changing culture, there's certain ways to do it. Certain things that create a spark, but time is a huge factor of it, and time isn’t going to be on our side when the war starts, and we start experiencing large casualties. So, I think the most interesting thing was we have to start now, like you're talking about.

And it has to come from commanders in earnest. You want to look at it across the Department of Defense, something that commanders talk about now is mental health. It changed things. It changed things across the force. Maybe not as dramatically as desired but having leaders from the highest to the lowest of echelons put efforts into our mental health crisis has made a difference and I think it's going to be that same effort that's needed to talk about Mortuary Affairs Operations. It's something that's on the tail end of everyone's mind. We'll get to it when we get to it. But that’s got to change.

Bushby (00:19:18): Well, I mean, you have young people in the military, there's an air of invincibility.  It’s not going to be me, I’m too young for this, but I mean, as you both know, death doesn’t just discriminate on age.

Marxsen (00:19:34): Very true, and your level of exposure depends on where you grew up in. Like I said that flyer had had no idea, had no idea that program existed.

Bushby (00:19:43): I mean, a lot of spouses, I just did a spouses’ command briefing a couple weeks ago and a lot of them are told, they'll take care of you. Don't worry about it. I'm not going to talk about this.  They’ll take care of you, and that has been a generational, when the time comes, the military will take care of me, active, retired, veteran, and that’s not always the case.

There’re different levels of care if you're not active duty or on active-duty orders, you're outside the scope of everything being taken care of. A lot of these spouses, they didn't know, they just didn't know that was there.

Farnham (00:20:15): And that's such a phrase that is so ambiguous because what could be you're going to take care of me to me, is completely different to you? [Bushby: Absolutely.] And so having those really hard conversations about, if your husband were to pass, or if your wife were to pass, the paycheck stops, you need to have that culture where death isn't the taboo thing. It's something that we talk about and understand. Hey, these are these are my wishes. When I pass, that, you need to understand that this is where the benefits and the care is and the care isn’t, this is where the line is from the government perspective.

Marxsen (00:20:55): That's so true, ma'am, because Mortuary Affairs operations do focus on the service member, and they were service member coming back to their loved ones. But in reality, the program doesn't end there. It's how do we take care of soldiers and families and the families is going to be the huge part. We've made strides over the past 2025 years with the survivor benefits programs and things that we can do. But you are right.  There are catches in there. A family member will not receive benefits until positive identification has been made of the decedent.

Bushby (00:21:21): And even then, it takes time.

Marxsen (00:21:23): It takes time. You're in a combat zone. How can you get positive identification?

Bushby (00:21:24): You know, you have to be notified, the notification team has to beat social media.

Marxsen (00:21:27): Yep.

Bushby (00:21:30): As many people knew during the past 20 years in the desert, social media was faster than the casualty notification.

Marxsen (00:21:37): It was.

Bushby (00:21:38): And people not updating their contact information on V-Regs, having to hunt next of kin down, that just further delays the process.

Marxsen (00:21:45): Absolutely. I think notification will not only take longer, positive identification before notifications is going to take even longer and then benefits are going to be coming much later, where we could have a service member fall in combat, in the CENTCOM AOR, human remains brought back within 72 hours benefits within the next 24, initially, for short-term benefits.

Farnham (00:22:06): Death gratuity.

Marxsen (00:22:06): Exactly. We might not have positive identification that timeline now, and now it's weeks before remains come home, and weeks before a family member can talk to that casualty assistance officer to make Funeral Home plans. Because you just don't have the remains to do anything with. And that's a long time to grieve.

Bushby (00:22:25): But the other part is not having that death certificate. And I mean that's, that's the link to banking and other avenues to help that family, and when that’s delayed, and you know, you don’t get that for weeks, sometimes even months, that such a…that puts them in [Marxsen: Absolutely.] a bind.

Marxsen (00:22:41): I've got a very different perspective of your comment, ma'am, that the Army will take care of me, when it takes time. The Army taking care of the family is doing everything we can, as fast as possible to take care of those family members, and it’s a hard concept because concurrently with taking care of that family member, more soldiers are dying in the theater, in a war that we’re trying to fight.  So, how are we weighting our efforts to take care of the soldiers that are in the fight, becoming casualties, but living in the fight, needing to evacuate in the moment and then bringing remains back and also taking…it’s a lot to think about.  It’s a lot to process.

Bushby (00:23:15): Yeah, do more with less.

Marxsen (00:23:16): Yeah, right. I think there's more that the military can do preemptively before wartime to ensure members get taken care of. Maybe not as fast as desired, but faster than if we didn't prepare.

Farnham (00:23:28): One of the key differences I've noticed in Mortuary Operations versus other defense in support to civil authorities that I've participated in, when you're doing floods and fires and blizzards and all kinds of national responses, it's as fast as possible as efficient as possible.   In mortuary, it’s everything stops, and we take it slow, everything is very conscientious with the decisions that we do.

Bushby (00:23:53): Very, very deliberate in our thinking, in our words, because you can, one little misstep…

Farnham (00:23:59): That can cause someone that the pain that that, that the fighter pilot was carrying as an example. And Major Marxsen, I’d like to thank you, you gave me this insight is we have got to have the exposure left of conflict, before the conflict happens, because this is out efficiency time right now to have that conversation to say, hey, your loved one might not come home for a few months or a year or two years. That happened in World War Two. Let's look at what happened in in Korea and Vietnam, where there were individuals interred, then we lost the land.

And so, as our troops are getting out of that area and retreating, they're digging and they're taking them with them because we're not leaving them behind. We need to have those hard conversations. And about what would happen if, and how can we, as senior military, and civilians, really help to define the future of Military Mortuary Operations and have that critical conversation now, there's not going to be enough ice, there's not going to be enough transfer cases. The cost to bring them back on C-5s and C-17s is probably going to be a billion dollars. Is that a billion dollars of taxpayer money that we want to spend now, or is that something where we, when we go into a conflict, we have established, OK, what is our internment plan? How do we efficiently use the area to fulfill the promise that our government has made to bring our decedents home?

Marxsen (00:25:25): Absolutely. As we say, prior to the conflict, we would love to have everything done. Everything's not going to get done. But I truly believe that there are a select few major muscle movements that can be made, whether it's just a few different words written in doctrine, policy, laws. If it's a few spoken words from commanders before training events, before going on deployment, major strides could be made to better set ourselves up. It's a problem that there is no perfect way to fix.

Ultimately, we would love to have no soldiers fall in combat. That's not reality. So how are we going to make the reality less harsh? I think it's the things that can be done, should be and that it would make us supporting our families a lot better.

Farnham (00:26:05): Christine, you said something really interesting before we walked in. You said what if it was your family? What would you want done? What would you charge a commander with?

Bushby (00:26:16): I would charge them with just, that to think about if the conditions were reversed. If this was your family that had to go through this,  losing you, how would you want them to be treated? How would you want them to be cared for, in addition to the dignity, honor, and respect? But when you stop and think about it, it's like look, I just wouldn't want to be rushed through the process, make these snap decisions, and not remember anything two days later, but in the same time you want the closure, and you would want whatever tangible they can recover back to you. I was just scrolling through here, 81,000 still remain missing from World War Two, Korea and Vietnam and then in fiscal year 2023, they recovered 435 of those members, 4 from Vietnam, 43 from Korea and the remainder from World War Two.

Farnham (00:27:04): That is, that is the promise that we…

Bushby (00:27:06): So, I mean, they don't give up even if we could not get them out now, they're not going to leave them behind.  Defense POW/MIA accounting agency. Yeah.

Farnham (00:27:16): An amazing, amazing organization.

Bushby (00:27:20): I'm sorry my numbers were wrong. 127 service members, 88 from World War Two, 35 from Korea and four from Vietnam. 81,000 is probably. I mean it's coming down, they recover them, but then the next step is to find out who they are.

Marxsen (00:27:33): Right.

Bushby (00:27:34): You know, and that's where the identification lab in Hawaii plays a huge role in bringing closure to the families.

Farnham (00:27:41): In the Air Force, the medical examiner at Dover does that as well. And when I was at Dover, I had honor of participating in and bringing a World War Two veteran home. To me when someone says, why did you get into Mortuary and what does it matter? For me personally, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a judge. I'm not somebody fancy like that who can save lives and make a difference. But in someone’s darkest moment, I can be there, and I can be a part of helping them find closure and to walk a path, and they’ll never know I’m there. But I made a difference in their loved one’s death and in their life. And so that's why I do it. Christine, you could make a lot of money on the civilian side, like in a Funeral Home.

Bushby (00:28:32): I work in a funeral home, too.  

Farnham (00:28:34): My question is what drives you to be in the DoD providing this service?

Bushby (00:28:39): I mean, I was a kid when I knew I wanted to be mortician. So. And I've got the typical weird looks. You know, my parents thought I was a weird child, but they gave birth to Wednesday Addams or something. But no, I mean, this is like, this is the ultimate, because it's such a small population, segment of society, but it's on a level that's working in a civilian Funeral Home doesn't really compare. You get the opportunity day in and day out to take care of families. But there's just something else. It's a different level when it comes to DoD, that you know, I think that's where my niche was.

Farnham (00:29:16): What about you, Major Marxsen?

Marxsen (00:29:17): Well, I kind of didn't have an option, to be honest with you. I didn't know that Mortuary Affairs was ultimately going to fall into my career path, and when I commissioned, I commissioned as an Ordinance officer. So, I was school-trained and focused on maintenance and munitions. That was my wheelhouse. And then for Army Officers, you've got basic branches of Ordinance, Transportation and Quartermaster, that then combined at the rank of Captain, post-Captain’s career course to be a Logistician, and that’s when I was first introduced that you are now in charge of planning this.

You have to know a lot about logistics, and this is in your wheelhouse. What sparked my interest the most was I had an instructor at Captains’ Career course at the time he was Captain Rahilio. I'm sure he's not Captain Rahilio anymore, but he was a Mortuary Affairs trained Army Officer. And he just brought this level of passion, and it made me realize that to me, it doesn't matter that if it's fuel that I'm putting in that jet, ammunition that I'm giving to a tank, water that I'm giving to a soldier, Mortuary Affairs is just as important. It's not any less important than sustaining the fight, because even though that battle might have stopped, even though both sides might have stopped shooting at one another, or we have signed treaties that the war is over, the remains still need to be taken care of. And I think it was his passion that sort of ignited me and got me interested to, to study and be a be the best planner I could be at it. Because I wasn’t in one of our two Mortuary Affairs companies in the Army.

Farnham (00:30:36): You got a 30-second elevator speech. The door opens and there's a four-star in there. This is your chance to, like, make an impression on the career field to say, hey, this is what needs to happen or hey, you need to tell people this or Sir… So, you have a four-star in an elevator and you can hit the stop button and say Sir—what would you say?

Marxsen (00:31:00): My pitch would generally start: Sir, Ma'am. Now that I have you here, need to tell you something very important. We are all very focused on Great Power Competition. Competition isn’t over when treaties are signed and one thing that takes a back burner is Mortuary Affairs Operations and bringing our soldiers home. This is something that we don't put a lot of attention to, because it's not the first step of winning the war. It's not the first step of losing the war, either.

Like, it is step that is so far down, we've got to think about other things first, but we have to talk about it, and I think my biggest part of my pitch would be: culture needs to change. I'm not here to talk about money, which is all generals care about. I'm here to talk about culture and that culture would start with them, and the words that come out of their mouth, not what they can convince Congress to spend money on. So, I would ask them for their help to help change the culture, not change the dollars.

Farnham [to Bushby] (00:31:47): What would you say?

Bushby (00:31:48): I would have to concur with you about culture needing to change, but from the humanistic point of view, because of the ripple effect that death has on a unit, their coworkers, the installation, and a lot of times people aren't given the opportunity to grieve. It happens. Then you have to move on, but that Airman or Soldier’s brain is stuck on the last conversation they had with that person. So, I would look at it from that approach. The Mortuary Affairs is busy enough, but we also have to take care of out people, so that we’re not adding more to the workload.  You know that probably it’s kind of rough, but Ma’am, what about you?

Farnham (00:32:26): I disagree with one thing you said, and I think probably three or four years ago I would have completely agreed with you and what you said was that generals just care about money. When I was doing Mortuary operations for COVID, the commander came and visited me in the Mortuary, and I gave him a tour of the Mortuary and we talked about resilience, and we talked about mental health, and he met every single Airman and soldier and shook their hands. And to this day still checks in on these individuals to talk about mental health and their career and be a mentor if possible. So, what I would do in that moment with the general is I would ask him Christine's question and I'd say what if it was your, your loved one, what can we do different now so that if it were your loved one?  What can we do different now, so that if it were your loved one, they would have the dignity, honor, and respect to fulfill our nation’s promise to bring them home?

Marxsen (00:33:23): Just go straight for the feels, right, Ma’am?

Farnham (00:33:25): I do. [Bushby: All the feels.]

Farnham (00:33:26): Well, I had such an amazing hour sitting with you guys.

Bushby (00:33:32): Was it, has it been an hour?  Oh, shoot. Yeah, that was pretty deep.

Farnham (00:33:33): Yeah. Yeah. Is there anything else you'd like to add, or should we just wrap it up now?

Marxsen (00:33:39): No, ma'am. I'm good. Thank you. Thanks for having me on, and just share the word.

Farnham (00:33:43): This is amazing. Thank you very much. [Bushby: You're welcome. Thank you.] And with that, we will close out the first ever military podcast on Mortuary operations.

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