Local men honor fallen soldiers

The sight of caskets coming back home from war is always emotional, but for three local servicemen stationed overseas, it’s just part of the job.

That’s because for Maj. Adam VonBartheld of Pelham, Sgt. 1st Class Percy Clements of Pelham and Staff Sgt. David Kiker of Helena, giving honor and dignity to their brothers and sisters lost in battle is just what they do.

As part of the military’s Mortuary Affairs team in Kandahar, Afghanistan, VonBartheld, Clements and Kiker join members of all branches of the armed forces to prepare the bodies or remains of fallen soldiers before they are sent back to the United States.

VonBartheld, the Joint Sustainment Command Officer, oversees the personnel while Clements and Kiker process the fallen soldiers, make tentative identifications, secure the soldiers’ personal effects and schedule a flight for the remains to be taken as soon as possible to Dover, Del. When the caskets are loaded onto the final flight home, the team honors the soldiers with a final ceremony.

During this process of preparing the fallen soldiers, the three servicemen often come face-to-face with the grim realities of war.

“Emotionally, it is very difficult to see what the results of an (improvised explosive device) attack has on these young soldiers,” Kiker said.

For Clements, the most difficult part of the job is knowing the deceased young men and women are leaving behind a family back home.

“We experience the worst side of war on a daily basis,” Clements said. “It is extremely difficult, emotionally, to see all these young men and women and know there is a family here, and there, that is dealing with the loss. As soldiers, we know there is always the possibility (of dying), but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.”

For VonBartheld, seeing the small reminders of home that each soldier carries is emotionally tough.

“It does get difficult when you see the personal effects, such as pictures, and you know they will never see their loved ones again,” VonBartheld said.

With all three men being married with children, just knowing they are giving peace to another soldier’s family is what makes the job all worth it.

“The best part of the job is knowing that I get to show the fallen the utmost dignity, reverence and respect by caring for them as though they were my family,” Clements said. “I feel very proud of the job we do here and hope the families know how well we take care of their loved ones.”

While the three men cannot always see the impact they are making, there is something the men see each day that serves as a small reminder that their job is not complete until the war is over and all men and women have been returned home.

“Each day, I start off by looking at the position of the American flag,” VonBartheld said. “If it is half staff, it’s another bad day. If it is up, it’s a good start to another day.”