INTERVIEW: Fort Lee Mortuary Affairs Unit returns from Haiti

By Ryan Nobles - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It is not an easy job, but a special military unit based out of Fort Lee may do it better than anyone in the world.

The Mortuary Affairs Unit of the 49th Quartermaster group from Fort Lee just returned from a mission to Haiti where they help to recover the bodies of American citizens killed in the devastating earthquake.

First Sergeant Michael Swam was among the group who went to Haiti and he joined us now to discuss the experience.

RYAN: I know this is hard work but how important is it for the families of Americans that were caught in the devastating earthquake for you guys to go down there and recover their remains?

SWAM: It's a very honorable mission. We know it's important to the families to bring closure to them, and we take our jobs very serious with honor and respect to the remains as they are brought back to the states.

RYAN: How difficult was it? We know there were thousands and thousands of people killed in Haiti. How difficult was it to locate the Americans that were among those that were killed and then bring dignity to their remains and bring them back to their families?

SWAM: Well, a lot of it would be through word of mouth on the streets where they will say there would be an American at a certain location, and then we do an investigation and go retrieve whatever remains that may be at that location.

RYAN: So it was more than just actually locating the remains and then taking care of them. It was also a matter of actually going in and finding them?

SWAM: We did not go in any kind of structures. We had engineers to help out with that process and make sure the structure was safe for us to go in and retrieve whatever remains that needed to be retrieved.

RYAN: I can imagine, you don't need to go into details on this, but this had to be gruesome work, many, many dead bodies strewn throughout the area. Is this something the people under your charge get used to or something you never get used to after doing it for so long.

SWAM: Believe it or not, everyone copes with death in different ways and our young men and women in the services did an outstanding job and they pulled through and it's out of the norm of the regular mission they do down range in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they did an excellent job, very proud of them.

RYAN: First Sergeant, thank so much for being here, thank you for your service and your continue work for our country.

SWAM: Yes, sir, thank you, Ryan.

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