Senior Airman Tanitshaly Cruz: EMT carries experience into mortuary arena

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Alvarado
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

Life and death situations have a way of building resilience that carries forward into future adversity. Senior Airman Tanitshaly Cruz, an Air Force Reserve member deployed from the 914th Force Support Squadron at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, learned how to push through challenging times in her job outside the military. This experience benefits not just her, but her dress and restoration team at the mortuary, especially when the mission requires time and energy during nights and weekends.

“Straight through?” asked Cruz, recalling her longest shift. “Maybe, 28 to 32 hours.”

As an EMT, Cruz is familiar with grueling work hours and being exposed to traumatic events. Her internal dialogue toward her job keeps her focused while accomplishing any task before her.

“Just take a breath – one step at a time,” said Cruz. “I’m just one person. So I just have to do what I can, when I can.”

Cruz realizes the families of her medical subjects look to her for help during times of uncertainty the same way families of the fallen look to AFMAO for a sense of consistency and grace when preparing their loved one. There are many aspects of the mortuary mission where failure is not an option, which is similar to the world of emergency response.

“There really isn’t a margin for error,” Cruz said. “When we get to the hospital, the patient should be better off than when we responded to them.”

The same mentality applies to many aspects of AFMAO’s commitment to the fallen and their families. Cruz pairs a strong work ethic with a keen awareness of others, which allows her to step in and offer well-timed encouragement. Her ability to separate her emotions from her work allows her to support her team when they feel uneasy.

“I can feel when my coworkers are feeling uncomfortable,” said Cruz. “I feel that I can talk to them and relate to what they’re going through.”

Cruz’s journey to the mainland, and eventually the Air Force, began after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in 2017. She expresses a sense of gratitude for the move, despite the circumstances which led to her departure.

“It was hard, but in a way, I’m glad I did,” Cruz said. “I always wanted to join something that would help me feel a sense of purpose.”

Her natural inclination to help people drives her to continue her military service. Cruz hopes to advance her career path outside the Air Force as well, becoming a paramedic, and eventually a forensic pathologist. Her advice on self-improvement is deeply rooted in her ability to take a pause when life becomes tough.

“Think back on why you’re doing this,” Cruz said. “You may not see the big picture now, but take a step back, relax, breathe and just think things through. Find your ‘why’ again.”

AFMAO consistently ties its efforts to its promise of dignity, honor and respect for service members, as well as care, service and support for those who survive them. Cruz carefully aligns her everyday career choices with the needs of both the service member and, ultimately, the ones they leave behind.

“Anything we do is going to impact the family,” she said. “That’s their loved one.”