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Capt. Natalie Mercedes-Williams , 16th Sustainment Brigade
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ-EAST, Iraq -03.18.2009
Mortuary Affairs Soldiers here, in one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq, deal with stress in different ways.
“It takes a lot to do this job,” said Staff Sgt. Stittgen, mortuary affairs collection point non-commissioned officer in charge, 111th Quartermaster Co., 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade.
Mortuary affairs Soldiers recover, process, and ship the remains of U.S. service members, Department of Defense contractors, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces who lose their lives while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Stittgen goes for long runs most days.
“It is a real stress burner and I feel pretty good physically and mentally,” Stittgen said. “That is one way to handle this job and the situations that come with it.”
Stittgen’s team arrived at Marez-East in November of 2008. They will be deployed for six months due to the psychological stress that is an occupational by- product of the performance of their mortuary affairs duties in a combat zone.
This particular team is composed of the following Soldiers: Spc. Britney Brooks, from Virginia Beach, Va., Spc. Jesus Munoz Aviles, from Arecibo, P.R., Spc. Kimberly Gallegos, from Pueblo, Colo., Spc. Kenneth McWilliams, from Philadelphia, Miss., Spc. Eduardo Santiago Bonilla, from Aguada, P.R., and Staff Sgt. John Stittgen Jr., from Frederick, Md.
“The way I cope with the stress of the job is by reading my Bible and praying,” said McWilliams. “I love my MOS [military occupational specialty].”
The priority of the team is to treat all remains with dignity and respect; ensuring American casualties return to the continental United States as quickly as possible.