Casualty Assistance Center trains local police
Paul Thurman, Fort Polk Casualty Assistance Center memorial affairs coordinator, explains the process of military honors funerals to members of the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office honor guard July 30 in Alexandria.

FORT POLK, La. -- Fort Polk's relationship with the local community continued its forward momentum July 30 in Alexandria. The Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office honor guard, in an effort to hone its funeral procedures, received training from the Fort Polk Casualty Assistance Center.

Paul Thurman, CAC memorial affairs coordinator, first presented a class on military honors to the Louisiana state troopers in June. "They loved it," Thurman said. "The sheriff's office heard about the class and asked that we give it to their honor guard. We're letting them know what is available for funeral honors and explained the steps of a military funeral."

The CAC is a subordinate of the Fort Polk Directorate of Human Resources. Its mission is to assist Army Families (active and retired) in their time of bereavement with initiation of the survivor benefits process, military burial honors and line of duty investigations. The Fort Polk CAC's area of responsibility includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and nine counties of eastern Texas.

Thurman described a military funeral to the honor guard, and explained the resources available for assisting bereaved Families. A casket, bugle and flag case were on display, and Thurman answered the officers' questions about the items and funeral protocol.

Maj. Jerome Hopewell, enforcement division, RPSO, said the honor guard has a working knowledge of military honors. "Some of the members of the honor guard have a military background and they naturally have a leg up, but we're trying to get everyone on the same page," he said. "Funerals aren't the only thing we do. A lot of things we do don't have any military application, but where there is an overlap, we will base it on the military model."

The training was a seamless display of inter-agency cooperation. "It's good to see agencies working together," said Darrell Guillory, chief deputy, RPSO. "This means so much to the families of our deceased officers. They really appreciate the honor this team renders at funerals."

The Rapides Parish honor guard is a 12-man team, composed of volunteers from throughout the department. The team conducts funeral honors for sheriff's office retirees and officers who die in the line of duty. "We want to pay respect to our fallen comrades," said Lt. Keith Nelson, honor guard officer in charge. "We're getting new uniforms, so the administration is backing us up. Some members of the team served in military honor guards. We all have our own experience but we're trying to bring it together into a cohesive whole."

The breadth of experience represented by the honor guard extends to its composition. "Even though some of the team has military experience, they came from different branches of the service, and they work in different divisions of the sheriff's department," Guillory said.

"Our department has more than 500 personnel, and we don't all work in the same division," said Leon Philpot, who works in the information technology office. "We don't see each other often so we don't know everyone, but some one on the team usually has a personal connection with the deceased. The members of the honor guard get together before a funeral and share stories -- it gives us a connection with the deceased."

Philpot said the training was effective. "Most of us have been on the detail for a while," he said.
"This is exactly what we needed. Because several members of the team are prior-service military, we prefer to adopt the military standard because we are familiar with it.

"We're looking forward to having consistency." As the honor guard hones their skills they are aware that their effort is important to the families of the deceased. "We want to be sure we're doing it right out of respect for the family," Philpot said. "What we get out of it is the satisfaction that we did something to comfort them."

Thurman said the CAC is enthusiastic about training local law enforcement as a way to build ties with the community. "We will help them any way we can," he said. "This team was energetic, willing to learn and open-minded about making things better. My main goal is to help them incorporate military honors with their current methods."

Page last updated Mon August 17th, 2009 at 15:08