MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.— Participating in an Air Expeditionary Force rotation to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base, Del., can be an honor considering the detail and magnitude of the mission. But being hand selected to take part in back-to-back rotations can be even more of an honor. This is what happened with a staff sergeant from Bremerton, Wash. with the 446th Services Flight here.
Staff Sgt. Michael Bishop’s two rotations to AFMAOC had him there from January to September in support of the contingencies in Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa.
“He was reliable,” said Senior Master Sgt. Steve Harris, 446th Services Flight superintendent, who served as AFMAOC superintendent during the same time period. “I needed him there to keep me motivated. He checked on me every day and offered a joke and a smile.”
While serving in the first rotation, 10 more spots opened up for the next rotation, said Sergeant Bishop. Two of those spots needed to be filled by people already in place to keep the continuity. After Sergeant Bishop showed interest in extending, it was brought up to the AFMAOC commander, Col. Robert Edmondson, and he made it happen immediately.
According to Sergeant Bishop, the position he extended in was the one where he found his niche . . . the AFMAOC Carry Team, their version of the base Honor Guard.
The AFMAOC commander handpicked Sergeant Bishop as the Carry Team leader, said Sergeant Harris. He is professional and looks great in uniform.
“This is a mission that nobody can walk into and just perform,” said Sergeant Bishop. “It takes a special breed to be able to look at it as a mission and nothing else. You must stay focused and loose or you may end up cracking.”
“It was our mission to ensure the fallen troops returning home would be returned to their family in the most honorable way,” said Sergeant Bishop. “To prepare the fallen U.S. troops with dignity, honor, and respect for their final resting place.”
According to Sergeant Bishop, even though he wasn’t unofficially the NCO in charge of the Carry team, he definitely fit the role. He was responsible for choosing people to make up the rest of the team, team training, calling commands, work schedules, and the fitness program.
The team’s training, preparation, and continuity allowed the team to perform at top levels, said Sergeant Bishop.
Performing over 100 transfers, each one treated with dignity, honor, and respect, still takes a lot out of the people on the Carry Team, according to Sergeant Bishop.
“The operations tempo was high, with flights coming in on a daily basis,” said Sergeant Bishop. “Sometimes they would come in two to three times a day, morning and night. We would perform duties as early as 3 a.m. at times. There was a point where I didn’t get a day off for over 30 straight days.”
Sergeant Harris witnessed the high ops tempo of the Carry Team’s duties.
Sergeant Bishop’s work hours were unpredictable and long, said Sergeant Harris. Sometimes they went weeks on end without any days off. Sergeant Bishop was the warrior of the rotation.
Even though he had a thankless job, Sergeant Bishop’s efforts were duly recognized.
“I received two Air Force Achievement Medals,” said Sergeant Bishop. “I received coins from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on three different occasions. I got one coin from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. I also received three coins from Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a coin from Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, James Roy. I must have received about 20 coins during my eight months at Dover AFB.”
Sergeant Bishop also received the NCO of the Rotation Award for his hard work during AEF cycle 7/8, said Sergeant Harris.
Hearing from his family gave him confidence in the mission, said Sergeant Bishop.
“My family was very proud of what I did while away,” said Sergeant Bishop. “They would call me and let me know that they saw me on the news. But with the different time zones and being asleep a lot due to odd hours of flights coming in, it was tough trying to keep in touch with my family.”
Overall, AFMAOC benefited greatly with Sergeant Bishop’s hard work and dedication, from numerous dignified transfers, ensuring training and continuity for the Carry Team, ensuring the maintenance of the facility, and saving the unit money.