FT. LEE, VA (WWBT) – Friday will be a statewide day of mourning for the Navy, Army, and Air Force servicemen who were killed in Saturday's helicopter attack in Afghanistan. Their remains would never make it home without the dedicated soldiers based right here in central Virginia.
The 54th Quartermaster Company at Fort Lee delivers human remains from the field of battle to their final destination. The work can be fiercely emotional - if the soldiers allow it.
They train like any soldier. Here, it's a video simulation. But for Spc. Margaret Horigan, it will soon be real...at just 19 years old.
"Honestly, I just wanted to serve, it's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid," Horigan said.
When her training is complete, she'll be off to Afghanistan, along with Spc. Christopher Lane.
"What we do, is for the families," Lane said.
They're part of the 54th Quartermaster Company...known as Mortuary Affairs. Almost every detail of a body's journey from the field of battle to the final resting place is up to them.
Staff Sgt. Jesus Munoz has been involved since 2003.
"I like to take care of soldiers, that's one of my main reasons for being in this job," Munoz said.
Having been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Munoz has seen and felt a lot: sleep deprivation, suicide bombers, fatigue and unfamiliar terrain.
"I appreciate life more, my family, my friends, day to day basis. Everything I do, I'm glad I'm here," he said.
But perhaps the biggest enemy is the emotion of it all...made almost unbearable, for example, when 30 servicemen perish in a helicopter attack as they did last week.
"It makes me very uneasy, to see that many people...go out like that. It's terrible," Lane said.
Somehow, they're able to set emotion aside...delivering remains with dignity, no matter the rank, knowing American families depend on it.
"There's nothing we can do for that fallen soldier other than to take care of him to benefit the family, to give the family closure," Lane said.
Like many who deploy to a war zone, Mortuary Affairs soldiers are exposed to possible post traumatic stress disorder, but the soldiers told us they love the job and look forward to deploying soon.