DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. —
According to the Air Force Personnel Center and the Defense Department’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, there are approximately 258,000 enlisted airmen serving on active duty and nearly 55,000 serving on reserve status.
Reservists are sometimes referred as “Weekend Warriors,” a nickname developed from their one weekend a month, two weeks a year duty schedule.
For Air Force Staff Sgt. Sarah Miles, a reservist assigned to the 910th Force Support Squadron, that sentiment is all too familiar.
“Other active-duty bases — if I go on annual tour somewhere — we get pushed to the side because we are reservists and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re just part time,’” Miles said. “They don’t look at us the same.”
This was hardly the case here for Miles and her team of 17 services airmen when they were activated to support Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations. The mortuary affairs mission is dedicated to the dignified and honorable return of fallen service members and the care and support of their families.
Miles said she doesn’t feel like a part-timer at AFMAO.
During the Youngstown team’s six-month deployment, one of their many responsibilities was to serve as the carry team during some dignified transfers, a solemn movement conducted upon the arrival of remains here.
According to Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Georgette Dieckmann, an active-duty AFMAO superintendent, the increasing support by Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard personnel comes after careful consideration regarding current manpower requirements for active-duty bases as well as the stress of repetitive deployments.
“We started looking at the effects it was having on units, to task over and over again for this mission,” she said. “While it’s a very honorable mission, it can be very difficult.”
Dieckmann said that was the case particularly with force support squadrons at bases such as Dover and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, who were primarily supporting the mission and are fulfilling contingency requirements.
“It was a heavy burden to bear,” Dieckmann said.
This is where Air Force Reservists such as Miles and her team come in. They not only carry the weight of the mission but also the thanks of a grateful nation.
“Before, it was just Dover and McGuire [airmen] coming here every six months,” Miles said. Now, she said, airmen from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, come to Dover in support of the mission.
“Now, every few years we’ll be coming here on a rotation,” Miles said. “I hope I get to come back here as many times as I can because it’s honorable.”
It’s that sense of duty and commitment to mission that Miles and Dieckmann agree binds the AFMAO team together regardless of military branch or component.
“There is no, ‘You’re a reservist, you’re guard, you’re active duty,’” Dieckmann said. “Our mission set and our vision behind what we do every single day doesn’t allow for that. We’re all AFMAO airmen and we’re all here to operate with dignity, honor and respect, and care, service and support of our family members of the fallen.”