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Picking up the pieces

Members of the 108th Wing Force Support Squadron participate in a simulated search and recovery exercise at Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, June 24, 2014. Slabs of pork chops, chunks of chicken meat, and mannequin pieces were scattered across the field for the members to recover. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Novak/Released)

Members of the 108th Wing Force Support Squadron participate in a simulated search and recovery exercise at Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, June 24, 2014. Slabs of pork chops, chunks of chicken meat, and mannequin pieces were scattered across the field for the members to recover. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Novak/Released)

An Airman from the 108th Wing Force Support Squadron participates in a simulated search and recovery exercise at Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, June 24, 2014. Slabs of pork chops, chunks of chicken meat, and mannequin pieces were scattered across the field for the members to recover. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Novak/Released)

An Airman from the 108th Wing Force Support Squadron participates in a simulated search and recovery exercise at Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, June 24, 2014. Slabs of pork chops, chunks of chicken meat, and mannequin pieces were scattered across the field for the members to recover. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Novak/Released)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Body parts and remains littered the field while the sun blazed high in the sky and vultures stalked nearby hoping for their next meal.
      Thankfully, this was just a training mission and the remains that were scattered through the field were only chunks of chicken and pork chops, along with body parts taken from a mannequin.
      The 108th Wing Force Support Squadron held a search and recovery class, taught by Senior Airman Cristin Campos and Tech. Sgt. Heather Bartlett, during their week-long training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, June 24, 2014.
       Campos and Bartlett began by instructing the members of FSS in a classroom setting to prepare them for contingency mortuary operations and performing a search and recovery mission. Together, they informed the Airmen of the procedures and the responsibilities when setting up a contingency mortuary. The search and recovery portion of the class explained different methods to use when searching for remains and each process involved when recovering those remains.
      When discussing the process of bagging and tagging the remains, Campos explains, "You never assume that just because you found an arm here and a leg over there that they are together and belong to the same person. You bag and tag each item as if it was a single human remain. You never put them together because you don't know if that's the same person."
      They also explained, from personal experience, how it might feel to encounter a situation where you are recovering bodies of those who have died.
      "As an EMT, I responded to a call, and when my partner and I got on scene, we found two kids in the pool," said Barlett as she shared a sad experience with the class. "They drowned. So my partner and I grabbed them out and started working them up. They were pronounced dead on scene. The point of this is just to say that we're sitting here in class and we're so far removed from it, but it is real. You may feel like you can handle it, but you never know. I know I had to go talk to someone after that call. This job will definitely test your resiliency. There are resources available, so talk to people because you just never know."
      After a detailed presentation and discussion about contingency mortuary operations and search and recovery methods, the class headed out to an open field to participate in a simulated search and recovery mission.
      Campos and Barlett had prepared the field by scattering pieces of chicken and pork chops and parts from a mannequin across the field. After donning their protective gear, the class began their search. Step-by-step and side-by-side, the Airmen recovered all the remains. Working together, they accomplished their mission by safely discovering each remain and bagging and tagging them separately.
       This training class was just an example of what Airmen can encounter in the real world as they have to search for body parts and remains of people who have passed. But unlike the real world, it was all pretend. The Airmen imagined what it would be like if the meat that they were recovering were actual human remains. Campos and Bartlett did their best to help prepare the Airmen for this type of situation.
      "You never know what you're going to get as far as what condition the body or remains are going to be in," said Bartlett. "It's traumatic."