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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Seventh Corporal Work of Mercy.

"The hardest job in the Army": the heroes of Mortuary Affairs.

If you ask them why the rush--the dead will remain that way--they recoil. They live by a credo you'll read as the sign-off on all of Col. Dillon's e-mails: "There is no greater honor than to serve those who have made the ultimate sacrifice." In the grim arithmetic of a 92 Mike, a speedy return = honoring the dead.

In a group interview in the reception area, I learn more about these unique soldiers. Some want to be morticians or forensic scientists, others just want to pay off their college. Some of them got into this lightly, but nobody stays in that way. It is the one military occupational specialty that the Army permits you to beg out of with no recriminations if you feel you can't hack it. A litmus test, of sorts, comes during training back in Richmond, Va., where prospective 92 Mikes spend time in the mortuary and see all manner of death. Not that it can really prepare them for the field experience. In training, "they'll bring out a decomposed body, so you can see the severities of death," says Specialist Kyna Bullock, who at 24 is already a two-war veteran, having done the same job in Afghanistan. "But it's just a guy off the street. It changes everything when you see somebody come through here that has on a uniform like you, that lost their life fighting for a cause. I've been to morgues several times. But the first time I processed the remains of an American soldier, I can still remember his name. . . . You can get a remain in and it may not look like that person. But when you look at their ID card, you look at their dog tags, you go through their wallet and see pictures of their family. . . . It changes things a lot."

As always, RTWT.

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