By Maj. Dan MarchikOctober 22, 2019
Fort Knox CAC hosts three-day training event for CNO/CAO
By Maj. Dan Marchik
U.S. Army Human Resources Command Public Affairs
Fort Knox, Kentucky - The Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center recently hosted a three-day training event here beginning Oct. 16, to prepare Soldiers from around the installation to fulfill their duties of casualty notification (CNO) and casualty assistance officers (CAO). About 30 Soldiers from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command attended the training.
When Soldiers perish, whether on the battlefield or in garrison, the Army assigns a CAO to work with the spouse or family to help them navigate through tough decisions that must be made with regards to Veterans Affairs, death gratuity, and other benefits.
The CAO ensures the deceased Soldier's family members have all the necessary information and details to support memorial services, funeral arrangements, and any travel that may be involved.
CAO duty is an important and sacred mission. One that isn't taken lightly.
"It's a no fail mission", explained David Marcum Sr., Chief of the Casualty Assistance Center (CAC) at Fort Knox.
"These brave young men and women volunteered freely to serve their country. To go out there and support those families is the right thing to do. That shows them strength and unity from our nation to the family," he said.
Prior to the Army's formal program, families would receive a telegram or letter stating that their Soldier had died, leaving the family to deal with the funeral and any benefits associated with a Soldier's death on their own.
Today there is a prescribed training program for active duty and reserve component CAOs before they can be certified and considered for an assignment.
David stresses the quality of training is so important because notification and assistance has to be done right from the very beginning.
"You don't get a second chance when it comes to notification," he said. "And while we go into detail about expectations, duties and resources available to the CAO, the reality is nothing's going to prepare you for this."
William Marcum, an instructor with the CAC, kicks off this training session in much the same way he starts every course.
"This course is about taking care of families. It has nothing to do with (fallen) Soldiers," he explained.
"Once you get that point across to Soldiers, you've set the tone for the entire class," William said.
While a CAO takes care of families of fallen Soldiers, unit leadership must take care of their Soldier performing CAO duties. CAO duty comes with a huge emotional burden and taking care of the CAO is as important as taking care of the families.
"The more support we can give that CAO, the more beneficial it is to not only the family but it sheds a positive light on the Army. It shows we care," David said.
"It's having that chain of command support. My 1st Sgt. and commander were there to take care of me," added Sgt. 1st Class Tor Peterson, a guest speaker to the course whose current assignment is with the 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Command.
"It's the toughest thing in the military I've done to date," he said.
While many Soldiers go through CNO/CAO training, not everyone is suited for the duty.
Kevin Logan, Deputy Chief of Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Branch, emphasized the importance of picking the right Soldier for the job.
"You need to select the right individual who can handle working with families when they're at their worst," said Logan.
The right Soldier can have a great impact on the family.
"How do you interact with individuals one on one, when you don't have all the answers? How do you react to that? Do you show compassion? Do you have empathy?" Peterson said. "That's something commanders look at when assigning this duty."
When done right, the work of the CAO can have a lasting, positive impact on the family, often times for the rest of their lives.
Sometimes individual cases can endure for months if not longer.
No matter the length of the case, eventually Soldiers return to their units and normal duties, but that doesn't mean support ends for the family. After a CAO completes his or her work with the family, the family transitions to Survivor Outreach Services (SOS). SOS provides additional support and resources to families as long as necessary.
"When we say it, we really truly mean it. Families are now a part of the Army for life," David said.