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U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael T. Williams advises 3rd Marine Logistics Group on mortuary affairs operations as part of MEFEX 19 on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, May 9, 2019. MEFEX 19 is a command post exercise that allows III Marine Expeditionary Force commanders and staff to practice their ability to execute command and control within a notional scenario. Williams, a native of Rome, Georgia, is a mortuary affairs capabilities chief with Personnel Retrieval and Processing Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Wong)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Wong

No harder duty, no greater honor | USMC mortuary affairs

13 Jun 2019 | 2nd Lt. Tori Sharpe 3rd Marine Logistics Group

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael T. Williams advised commanders and their staffs how the U.S. Marine Corps takes care of their own after they pay the ultimate price May 9, 2019 as part of MEFEX 19.

Williams, the capabilities chief for Personnel Retrieval and Processing Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group, supported 3rd Marine Logistics Group during MEFEX 19. The command post exercise allowed III Marine Expeditionary Force’s commanders and staffs to practice their ability to execute command and control, including mortuary affairs management, within a notional scenario.

During the exercise, Williams leveraged his experience as the most senior enlisted Marine in the military occupational specialty to educate Marines and Sailors on the mission of mortuary affairs, how the capability is utilized, the personnel retrieval and processing procedures, the responsibilities of the commanders as well as the support that is available to them to ensure their fallen Marines or Sailors are honored.

“My Marines and I are tasked with the honorable duty of recovering, processing and transporting the remains of our fallen service men and women back home to bring closure to their families,” said Williams. “These men and women gave their last full measure of devotion to our country and we honor them by draping them with the flag that they fought so bravely for.”

In 2003, the U.S. Marine Corps established their own mortuary affairs reserve units to allow Marines to take care of their own and assist the U.S. Army’s mortuary affairs. Williams’ unit was one of logistics units trained and transitioned into mortuary affairs that year.

Since then, Williams deployed in 2003 to Kuwait and into Iraq, following closely behind the ground combat elements. He went back to Iraq in 2005 and has continuously taken care of fallen heroes at a moment’s notice around the world.

“After 16 years of service in mortuary affairs, I truly believe the MOS picked me,” Williams reflected. “Freedom is not easy, and it comes with a terrible price – I have seen that bill delivered too many times. If it were me I would want to know that somebody was taking care of me and bringing me back so that my family could grieve and get closure.”

Williams notes that the MOS is not for everyone and attributes his capacity to take care of fallen service members to having his personal life in order and the support of a loving wife and family. Nowadays, mortuary affairs is an MOS that Marines are recruited for, giving the prospective Marine full transparency in their role in serving their country.

“I don’t think it ever gets easy, all of the fallen heroes have a different story,” Williams states. “Eventually you hear the backstory on why they joined and I like knowing and understanding. I want to find a purpose and I think it helps a little bit to know what they had in their heart, why they joined the Marine Corps and what kind of person they were. You know you’re doing the right thing. We don’t like doing the job but we’re honored to do it.”

As a reservist, Williams uses his experiences in mortuary affairs to remind his co-workers the importance of being safe in his civilian job. He is also reminded every day of the fallen heroes he has cared for over the years and continues to honor and remember them.

“We should never forget the sacrifices made by our young men and women, and we always honor them. We honor them by finishing what they set out to accomplish. We remember them by never quitting and having the backbone and the guts to never bend to the yoke of oppression,” said Williams. “We honor them and remember them by having the courage to live free.”

3d Marine Logistics Group