An Army carry team transfers remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Greg Davis, a civilian photographer at Dover, is concerned about only one person taking photos during sequestration, as opposed to three. (Greg L. Davis / Air Force)
An airman on temporary duty at Dover Air Force Base, Del., will photograph the return of fallen service members for their families at least through September — a job that until this month was split between a trio of experienced civilian photographers.
The change is the latest in how sequestration is affecting mortuary affairs, which last month announced a two-person honor team, rather than seven, would handle funeral honors for military retirees. Furloughs restrict overtime, and those killed in war return to the U.S. at all hours of the day and night, said Christin Michaud, an Air Force spokeswoman.
Michaud said families will see no change. These solemn occasions will continue to be documented and put on DVDs for those who request it, she said. But Greg Davis, one of the civilian photographers, said he worries the quality will suffer.
“We all have 20-plus years of experience doing this in some of the hardest conditions. Being a senior airman or staff sergeant doesn’t exactly stack up to that experience level,” Davis said. “Besides the challenging lighting and weather conditions we face, no flash is allowed. The photographers position themselves so the families do not see us, and always keep in mind we are near a grieving family.”
Davis said the work is the most challenging — and important — of his career. He and the two other photographers will continue to work at Dover but won’t photograph transfers, even those ocurring during regular working hours.
“The Air Force is having an active-duty, trained photographer to deploy here to make sure our sacred mission will be covered,” Michaud said.
“There will be no change to the quality of our photo support during dignified transfers,” Capt. Kathleen Ferrero, a mortuary affairs spokeswoman said in an email. “The photographer deploying here is worldwide qualified to document U.S. military operations.”