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American Forces Press Service

Officials Detail Dover Mortuary Operations Timeline

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2012 – Defense Department leaders are determined to be as transparent as possible about military mortuary operations, a group of senior defense and military officials said here today.

Jo Ann Rooney, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, briefed Pentagon reporters on the release of “Appendix E” documents, which were examined during the Defense Health Board’s Independent Review Subcommittee.

The appendix details records of operations at Dover Port Mortuary, Del., from 1990 to 2012. The Dover mortuary handles remains of service members who die overseas, and also responds as needed to mass casualty events.

Members of the subcommittee, which was led by retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, released their report in late February. The panel recommended 20 recommendations for further changes at the facility.

Rooney said those changes are aimed at ensuring “we always treat our fallen heroes with the highest degree of honor -- and we are committed to that standard.”

“Caring for the fallen and their families is a mission of the entire Department of Defense,” Rooney noted. “And we are committed to remedying any problems or shortfalls exposed in our handling of this mission.”

After that report’s release, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta directed Defense Department officials to provide full information on records of past disposition practices for partial remains.

Today’s briefing centered on those records: the several-inches-thick, 50 tabbed sections of Appendix E used to compile the report, according to a department spokeswoman.

The documents –- many redacted to obscure names and identifying information -- include emails, administrative orders and memos, investigation reports and ship’s deck log sheets confirming burials at sea.

Officials did not release documents for tabs 34 and 36 because they involve issues still under investigation or administrative review, but they provided descriptions of records the review subcommittee examined. The two sections involve, respectively, allegations of fraud and whistleblower reprisal.

Joining Rooney as briefers today were Brig. Gen. Eden J. Murrie, director of Air Force Services; Navy Capt. Craig Mallak, Dover medical examiner; and Army Col. Richard Teolis Jr., director of the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs.

Murrie told reporters about corrective actions already in place, and those planned for the future, noting officials will continue to improve processes. For matters still under investigation, she told reporters that due process is being followed, and there are ongoing disciplinary actions” that will be completed in mid- to late--April.

The February report included references to the 2002 disposal of unidentifiable fragments, at the time called “Group F remains,” resulting from the 9/11 Pentagon attack. Officials said in February while remains were disposed of according to policies in place at the time, those policies had since changed.

The remains, which were incinerated and ultimately disposed of at a landfill, consisted of material that could not be positively identified as human, could not be ruled out as terrorist remains, and were mixed with parts of the building and of the airplane destroyed in the attack, Rooney said.

Mallak explained that in a mass casualty event, responders collect all material that may be of human origin. Forensic professionals at Dover test that material to positively identify as many human remains as possible, he said.

“We would rather have … thousands of portions that we can never make an ID off of, than miss one piece that is something we could [identify],” he said.

Rooney said she spoke with families of 9/11 victims earlier today, and assured them “their loved ones were treated with … care, dignity and respect.”

The focus now, Rooney said, is “on the present and the future.”

“We are confident that the improvement and changes already made, along with [the Abizaid committee’s] recommendations, provide the basis for us to ensure that we meet the extremely high standards we have set for ourselves in executing this solemn obligation,” she said.

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