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Transportation of Remains

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Updated March 04, 2007

Families of fallen military members no longer have to travel as far to pick up their loved one's remains.

The 2007 National Defense Appropriations Act directed the Office of the Secretary of Defense to provide military or military-contracted air transport for all Soldiers who die in a combat theater of operations.

In the past, remains were transported to the nearest commercial airport, usually a metropolitan-sized national or international airport, by scheduled commercial aircraft. Under the new procedure, the aircraft flies directly from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to the nearest airport of the Soldier's final destination.

Every servicemember who dies in a theater of combat is transported by military aircraft to Dover Air Force Base, Del., for processing and burial preparation.

The law also directs that an honor guard escorts servicemembers’ remains from Dover to their final resting place. To ensure honor guard members are properly prepared to perform this honor, a training film has been produced by the Defense Department. The servicemember’s next of kin can request that commercial air transportation be used for the remains, or that the honor guard not escort the remains.

In a memorandum to senior military leaders, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England wrote that this change is to ensure the transportation of fallen servicemembers is given priority. England instructed the military services and departments to work together to ensure air transportation arrangements are handled properly and efficiently.

"Flying the remains as close to their hometown is a lot more convenient for families," Donald Johnson, Fort Jackson chief of personnel operations, told the Army News Service. "It is also more convenient for families to pick up remains in a smaller airport because there is easier access in and out. The trip to the funeral home is also shorter."

Another recent change that is giving more recognition to the remains of fallen servicemembers is the use of honor covers on coffins. The honor cover is a reinforced cardboard cover that fits on top of the airline industry’s standard air tray for coffins. The cover is embossed with an American flag, and the Defense Department seal on both ends.

The Army designed the honor covers in cooperation with the Air Transport Association, so they are standardized throughout the airline industry. The covers are not used more than once and are treated to make them waterproof. When the remains reach their final destination, the honor cover is removed and an American flag is placed over the coffin.

Above Information Provided by the Department of Defense

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