By 2nd Lt. Crystal Farris | Idaho National GuardSeptember 25, 2018
BOISE, Idaho - When tragedy hits and a Soldier dies, their family does not have to go through the bereavement process alone. The Idaho Army National Guard has 120 certified casualty notification and assistance officers ready to provide immediate support to families who have lost a Soldier of the active Army, Reserve or National Guard.
"The support we provide is very important to the family members," said Rodney May, casualty coordinator for the Casualty Assistance Center, West Region."Sometimes it's the little things we do that make the world of difference to them."
To learn what some of those things are, 85 members of the Idaho Army National Guard participated in a Casualty Notification Officer and Casualty Assistance Officer Training on Gowen Field, Sept. 19 to 20.
The training prepared them to handle emotional tasks of notifying families and assisting them through their Soldier's death, including through their grief responses.
"You won't always know what to expect in these situations," said May."Dealing with the raw emotion and grief responses are the hardest parts of this job."
CNOs are the first individuals to meet with families to notify them of a loved one's death, provide circumstantial information and answer questions. Afterward, CAOs advise and assist family members with necessary arrangements and in preparing and submitting claims for beneficiaries.
"There are so many decisions families are expected to make relatively quickly after the loss of their Soldier, that it would be absolutely overwhelming to them without the assistance of CNOs and CAOs," said Maj. Cody Rutz.
Rutz first took the training in 2013. He could not have predicted he would need to use that training only four years later. In 2017, Rutz was assigned as the CAO for a husband whose Soldier had just died. Over the course of a couple months, he helped her husband get gratuity and life insurance payments, and facilitated requests made by the family, such as writing and giving a funeral speech.
"There is a tremendous amount of stuff you are supposed to do, and then there will be a lot of stuff families will ask you to do that was not part of your training," Rutz said."It's a demanding job but also very rewarding at the end when the family expresses gratitude for making their lives easier in any way."
Currently, the Idaho Army National Guard is assisting the families of 15 fallen Soldiers. Master Sgt. Bertie Barber, who just completed the training, said he knew one of the 15 Soldiers who recently died and felt it was his duty to honor future families as CAO by completing the training this year.
"This responsibility gives me a sense of honor and duty to my brothers and sisters, and especially their families," said Barber."I've always viewed being in the military as being part of a family, and that includes the spouses, children and extended relatives. So even if a Soldier isn't here anymore, we haven't forgotten about their family and we will be here to support them for as long as they need it."