By Mr. Brent ThackerDecember 14, 2018
FORT KNOX, Ky. - A caravan of vehicles, the lead one black, high beams on, small flags attached to the hood. They come to a halt and people dressed in black begin to exit their vehicles.
Pallbearers remove a flag-draped casket from the Hearst and carry the deceased Soldier onto a stand.
A chaplain stands over the remains of the Soldier speaking about his life. Soft cries escape mouths and handkerchiefs catch the teardrops beginning to fall.
When he ends his eulogy, two Soldiers march in unison to the casket.
A Soldier raises his bugle, the sounds of "Taps" heard with full clarity. The Soldiers salute.
In the distance, a Soldier commands, "Ready! Aim! Fire! Ready! Aim! Fire! Ready! Aim! Fire!" Three deafening sounds penetrate the tranquil silence as seven Soldiers fire their rifle, eject their shells and repeat.
The Soldiers remove the flag, working their hands in unison, folding it 13 times.
Once folded, the senior ranking Soldier presents it to a grieving love one. The words, "On behalf of a grateful nation…" quietly spoken.
With a final salute given the Soldier succumbs to his final resting place.
Almost every day Fort Knox Soldiers perform this burial ceremony.
The Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center (CAC) sends Soldiers to assist in military honors or family causality notifications in a five-state area. Soldiers travel to Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan. They can drive as far as 10 hours away from Fort Knox to ensure a deceased Soldier receives military funeral honors.
To accomplish this, the CAC tasks Fort Knox tenant units. In 2018, it tasked the United States Army Recruiting Command, Human Resources Command, the 4th Cavalry Movement Enhancement Brigade, Medical Department Activity, 19th Engineer Battalion, and 1st TSC.
In the month of November, the 1st TSC was responsible for providing military honors.
Dave Marcum Sr., casualty assistance chief for Fort Knox, explained the importance of having a funeral detail ready at a moment's notice.
"This is a 'no-fail' mission, Marcum said. "We never say no. We are the last line of defense. We are the last Army memory these families have and it's our job to make sure we bury their loved one with the highest of honors."
Marcum spoke about the Fort Knox area of responsibility and the importance of having 1st TSC Soldiers ready to render honors.
"We have the largest area of coverage in the entire nation," Marcum said. "This is a very labor intensive operation. We must always be prepared for the possibility the National Guard or Reserve are drilling or covering a national emergency and cannot assist the grieving family members that need military honors or causality notification."
Marcum said in a typical year his office manages thousands of funerals.
Soldiers drove to three different states, rendering military funeral honors to 92 deceased service members. One of which was to render full military honors for a retired three-star general.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Wiley, casualty operations officer for the 1st TSC, explained how the unit hastily responded.
"A few days after we started this detail, we received the mission to render full military honors for Lt. Gen. Richard Lynch," Wiley said. "Sgt. 1st Class David Santos rose to the occasion and whipped a firing squad into tiptop shape and honorably bury the general. They trained from the moment we got the mission through the weekend to make sure we were ready for the general and his family."
According to Department of Defense regulations, all honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a service representative of equivalent rank to attend the funeral or burial service and present a flag to their next of kin.
To get prepared, Wiley and his Soldiers trained for hours on marching and facing movements, flag folding, and presentation.
"An incredible amount of work and preparation goes into funeral detail," Wiley said. "This is a no-fail mission. The performance of military funeral honors has to be executed flawlessly each and every time. The only way to achieve that standard is by training, training, and more training."
Wiley expressed his satisfaction towards his Soldiers on how well they performed the funeral tasks asked of them.
"I'm incredibly proud of the noncommissioned officers and Soldiers. Some of them worked every single weekend -- to include Veterans Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend -- for the month we had this detail."
The 1st TSC will rotate off funeral detail for the month of December, but resume duties in January through March.