Over the weekend the Department of Defense dedicated it 53rd Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del. The remains of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are flown into Dover for what the military calls dignified transfer.
The military describes a dignified transfer as a solemn movement that is conducted for every U.S. servicemember who dies in a theater of operation while serving in the military. After returning to the United States, their bodies are transferred from the arriving aircraft to an awaiting vehicle, and taken to the on-base mortuary before going to their final destination.
A Fisher House is considered a home away from home for family members of members of the military who are patients at major military and Veteran’s Administration (VA) medical centers. The houses, which provide free lodging, are typically within walking distance of the treatment facility or transportation is provided. There are 45 Fisher Houses on 18 military installations and 15 VA medical centers, and 12 additional houses are under construction or being designed.
The secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force chief of staff, and the Fisher House Foundation chairman were among those present at the May 1 groundbreaking ceremony.
The 8,462-square-foot Dover Fisher house will be completed in the fall, and will include a 1,714-square-foot meditation pavilion and garden. The house is being built to provide free on-base lodging for families who travel to Dover to see the dignified transfer of their loved one.
"Family members serve, too," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at the groundbreaking, adding that the family’s support helps the military and so "we must pay tribute, and provide loving care, service and support—in every way that we can—to our families."
Fisher House comfort homes are fully-equipped homes with kitchens and large common spaces such as living and family rooms. Unique to other Fisher House homes, the Dover Fisher House will only serve families of fallen service members while they are at Dover for their loved one's dignified transfer.
The policy regarding family members at dignified transfers was changed in April 2009 and family members are now allowed to be present for all military who are killed in overseas operations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The same policy change also allows next of kin to authorize or prohibit the presence of media during dignified transfers. Since the policy change, according to the Department of Defense, relatives attend 74 percent of dignified transfers.