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Chaplain and public affairs officer deploy to Dover

Ch. (Lt. Col.) Douglas Arendsee and 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley of the Wyoming Air National Guard work togther at Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations nearly nine years after Arendsee enlisted Ridley in the 153rd Airlfit Wing as a chaplain assistant.

Ch. (Lt. Col.) Douglas Arendsee and 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley of the Wyoming Air National Guard work togther at Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations nearly nine years after Arendsee enlisted Ridley in the 153rd Airlfit Wing as a chaplain assistant.

2nd Lt. Rusty Ridley prepares for a dignified transfer of remains mission for a fallen servicemember on the flight line at Dover AFB, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik)

2nd Lt. Rusty Ridley prepares for a dignified transfer of remains mission for a fallen servicemember on the flight line at Dover AFB, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik)

Ch. (Lt. Col.) Douglas Arendsee, 153rd Airlift Wing, wing chaplain, prepares to give the oath of enlistement to Rusty Ridley of Laramie, Wyo. Ridley, a senior in high school, is joining the 153rd Airlift Wing as a chaplain assistant.

Ch. (Lt. Col.) Douglas Arendsee, 153rd Airlift Wing, wing chaplain, prepares to give the oath of enlistement to Rusty Ridley of Laramie, Wyo. Ridley, a senior in high school, is joining the 153rd Airlift Wing as a chaplain assistant.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Doug Arendsee and 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley deployed to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base, Del., to support the dignified transfer of remains mission.

The two members of the Wyoming Air National Guard both heard about the volunteer opportunities through their respective functional area managers at National Guard Bureau. Ridley was a chaplain assistant for Arendsee for seven years and found out they would both be working at the mortuary a few months before they both reported for their assignments.

"When I heard Chaplain Arendsee was going to be working at Dover, I was thrilled," said Ridley. "He has been a mentor in my career and to work alongside him again is a privilege."

A solemn dignified transfer of remains is conducted upon arrival at Dover from the aircraft to a transfer vehicle to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

"This is an interesting and rewarding mission but it is accomplished in the general context of sadness," said Arendsee. "As chaplains here, we interact directly with the families of the fallen, participate in processing of remains and serve as part of the dignified transfer team."

In March 2009, the Secretary of Defense announced a change in policy that, upon consent of the family of the deceased, allowed media access to cover dignified transfers. The only dignified transfers that are open to media coverage, with family approval, are those personnel who die in the line of duty supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

"I have never been more impressed with a group of people who are so dedicated to ensuring dignity, honor and respect for our nation's fallen," said Ridley. "It is truly a special place where you feel you are making a difference every day."

Ridley escorted public media, when approved by families, to the flight line to witness and document the dignified transfer.

"You begin to see the headlines of American deaths overseas and realize that within hours you will see these individuals and their families. It makes numbers come alive and makes the tragedy of war become real," Arendsee said.

A senior ranking officer of the fallen member's service presides over each dignified transfer.

"With each dignified transfer in which I participated, I met and spent about an hour with a different general officer -- from the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, down to the newest brigadier general," Arendsee said. "It has been interesting to meet so many high ranking individuals from so many fields, to observe their different personalities and listen to the widely variable perspectives of these highly engaged people."

It is the Department of Defense's policy, and the mission of the mortuary, to return America's fallen to their loved ones as quickly as possible. Arendsee and Ridley were on the flight line nearly every time when they arrived back on U.S. soil.