Casualty, Mortuary Affairs Conference Highlights Importance Of Mission
August 28, 2008
By Linda Green
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - To enhance current operations and coordination of military funeral honors, the Fort Sam Houston Casualty Assistance Center hosted a Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Conference Aug. 11 and 12 at the LaQuinta Inn and Conference Center in downtown San Antonio. More than 80 personnel, military and civilian, attended the conference.
During his opening remarks, Mike Waldrop, deputy to the garrison commander, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Sam Houston, thanked the attendees for coming to the conference and for their commitment and assistance to the FSH CAC. He expressed appreciation on behalf of Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, installation commander, and Col. Mary Garr, garrison commander.
Waldrop stressed the importance of the CAC's mission and the vital role it plays in assisting Army Families during their greatest hour of need.
Conference attendees received information on all aspects of casualty operations including burial and honors, casualty assistance and casualty notification officer training, honors requests, and the responsibilities of funeral directors and veteran service organizations and Veterans of Foreign Wars personnel.
William Trower Jr., director, Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, provided an overview of the cemetery's history, changing demographics and future operational changes affecting burial requirements.
Next, attendees traveled to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company Honors Platoon training area where they observed simulated honors and viewed the ceremonial horses that are vital to the caisson mission, which comprises an eight-person squad - one lead rider, one wheel person and six pall bearers. Fort Sam Houston is one of three installations that perform caisson missions. The others are Fort Myer, Va., and Fort Sill, Okla.
For many of the attendees, particularly the funeral directors, this was the first time they were able to observe a caisson up close and interact directly with Soldiers from the Honors Platoon in a non-burial environment.
Day two of the conference included a briefing by Roberto Munoz, Department of the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Office, Human Resources Command, Washington, D.C.
Munoz stressed the importance of reporting a death to the CAC, especially for funeral directors. Several funeral directors said that many Families do not want the Army to know about the deceased Soldier, nor do they want military funeral honors.
"That's fine," Munoz replied. "But the U.S. Army still needs to know that a Soldier died regardless of whether he was on active duty, retired or a veteran."
The CAC understands the grieving process all too well. They know that during grief, many Families and survivors do not want to make contact with the military. Munoz stressed that reporting the death of Soldier is of utmost importance, especially if the surviving Family member is still receiving the deceased's retired pay or in other cases where the survivor or dependent is entitled to benefits upon death, such as an annuity under the Survivor Benefit Program.
Other entitlements may include burial allowance, burial in a national cemetery, Dependency Indemnity Compensation, educational assistance and the Veterans Administration Home Loan Program.
Several funeral directors asked questions and said they were pleased at the knowledge they gained at the conference.
Munoz said he was pleased with the turnout, especially audience diversity. He said "this was one of the best audiences" since he began briefing at installations more than six months ago. Munoz also said that he was not aware of any other CAC in the Army that had conducted a casualty conference of this magnitude.
Officials from the Fort Sam Houston CAC said they look forward to a continued partnership, along with the unselfish service, of appointed casualty notification officers, casualty assistance officers and unit chaplains who are called on at a moment's notice to perform one of the most important missions of their careers.