Soldiers prepare to make final act for fallen comrades
July 21, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany-- There wasn’t much chatter amongst the group of Soldiers who gathered together in an upstairs classroom in Heidelberg’s Community Support Center July 13.
In fact it was eerily quiet minus the soft hum of a nearby air conditioning unit.
In the rear of the room Alex Torres, Casualty and Memorial Affairs Specialist, scanned the rows of chairs full of the latest crop of senior non-commissioned, commissioned and warrant officers all here to learn how to successfully perform a difficult yet highly delicate mission.
During the casualty notification and assistance class, students are trained on how to give official notifications to the family members of Soldiers killed downrange or within the garrison.
Through videos, interactive discussions and study materials, they also learn how to help families navigate through the sometimes overwhelming maze of military benefits, entitlements and funeral arrangements after the death of their loved ones.
“I think that a lot of people get the wrong idea about the program,” Torres said. “Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news but I always tell the Soldiers that come in hesitant about it, ‘It could be you and what kind of person would you want assisting your family?”
For some students, like Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dickens Precil, 212th Combat Support Hospital, the training made an impact early on.
“It actually ... opened your eyes about the casualties that we have out there and unless you know someone close to you who has been affected, you don’t really think about it. When it’s coming close to you, it kind of gives you a pause,” Precil said.
This is Precil’s first time ever taking the class, while others like Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Hedges, U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg Emergency Operations Center NCOIC, are back for a bit of refresher training.
“This is important so that we can continue to support the family even if the servicemember is no longer with us. We as the Army still owe that to the family members for the service that their loved ones provided,” Hedges said.
“To me I think it’s an honor to do it, because I think the family of the servicemembers deserve that and when that happens to me in the future I would want the same for my family,” he said.
The class also trains students on how to handle the emotional toll their mission can take on their own lives. Since he became certified, Hedges said, he provided casualty assistance, but not notification, to the wife of a retiree who passed away here.
“The feelings you get when you are there ... you still get these feelings almost like butterflies in your stomach realizing that this person just lost their loved one. It’s getting over that initial part when you knock on the door,” Hedges said.
After the initial notification, a casualty assistance officer or noncommissioned officer will assist the family before, during and after the funeral and remain with them as long as needed.
“We do not want them to think that once the Soldier is killed, that’s it. We want them to know that they are still a part of the Army family, until they decide not to be,” Torres said.
“It’s important for Soldiers to take care of their own. Whether you knew them or not it’s important to take care of that family, to help give them some sort of peace because there are a million things that go on behind the scenes. So we put that Soldier there to give them some sort of comfort and to help them through the process,” Torres said.
And the process appears to be a personal one for Torres, who served four years in the Marines before transitioning to civilian service.
“The main reason why I love this job is because when my Marines, my brothers, were killed, I couldn’t really do anything. But now you know what you can do and it’s kind of a way to pay back. I love this job and it’s because of that that I do this now,” Torres said.
Once certified, the students are trained to assist active-duty Soldiers, retirees and Department of the Army civilians.
The classes are usually taught once a quarter and slots are open to enlisted servicemembers in the pay grade of E-7 and above, commissioned officers captain and above, chief warrant officers 2 and above, Department of the Army civilians GS-9 and above and nonappropriated fund employees of any rank.
For information on becoming a casualty assistance officer or noncommissioned officer call DSN 370-8392, civ. 0162-2969201 or visit www.hrc.army.mil and click on programs and the link for the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.