Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center personnel ‘go the extra mile’ for Families

By Eric PilgrimJune 7, 2024

Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center personnel go the extra mile for families
(at right) William Marcum, Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center chief, takes a break with a team member of the Office of Army Cemeteries June 5, during their inspection of the Post Cemetery to determine if it earned its third National Shrine status. Marcum’s office is in charge of funeral arrangements of active-duty Soldiers across a multi-state area that includes much of Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — They often operate understaffed, performing a mission that exacts a heavy toll, to coordinate the maximum support possible across an area of operations that spans several states.

However, the Fort Knox officers at the Casualty Assistance Center say they do it with a singular purpose: to honor Army veterans and their families.

“Every family has an expectation for their veteran, and sometimes we lack the latitude to satisfy all their wishes,” said William Marcum, Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center chief, “but we always go the extra mile, as far as we can, to take care of our families.”

The center, on average consisting of five government personnel and five contractors, is considered one of the busiest among the 32 in the U.S. Army – often first or second in caseloads from month to month, and first in money benefits. Marcum said they are working over 90 cases right now.

“We just closed out 10 cases recently, which dropped us down to the Number 2 slot for this month,” said Marcum. “I get questioned, ‘How is Fort Knox often the busiest?’ To put it simply, it’s due to the large number of deployable Soldiers in our 5-state area of operations.”

Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with more than 40,000 Soldiers, is managing roughly 40 cases, according to Marcum. By comparison, Fort Knox has over 4,000 Soldiers, but services an area that includes Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and most of Michigan apart from the Upper Peninsula.

Marcum said his staff isn’t capable of handling the large caseload with the few DoD civilian personnel he has at the moment. As a result, they rely on a team of contractors to augment his team.

He and the contractors will get the call anytime a veteran in his area of operations dies. That call can come in the daytime or in the middle of the night.

“We might be working a case at 2 o’clock in the morning, and it may last all the way until it’s time to come to work,” said Marcum. “We still have to then work all day because we’re still processing that case. When it comes to taking care of our Family members on what’s likely the worst day of their lives, 9 to 5 simply isn’t an option.”

As families work through funeral homes and the other steps to bury their active-duty Soldier, the center works alongside of them while also working behind the scenes to coordinate paperwork that ensures Families receive their benefits.

The center also assigns and works with a casualty notification officer and casualty assistance officer. The notification officer is responsible for delivering the devastating news. The assistance officer works closely with the family to ensure they have what they need as they grieve.

If a family is unhappy with the officers that are assigned to them, Marcum said he works to accommodate them.

“In one case, the next-of-kin was not happy with her casualty assistance officer or the mortuary officer, so at her request, we replaced them,” said Marcum. “At the end of the day, it’s about making everything as easy on them as we possibly can.

Marcum said his team also works with the Reserve units on post to assist with military funerals across the region.

Full honors funerals require more personnel: roughly nine that includes a team of three to seven to perform a rifle salute of three volleys and fold the flag, a bugler, and an officer who presents the folded flag to the next of kin.

“It’s not always easy to put together a full-honors team,” said Marcum. “Sometimes, all we can send are two-person teams.”

Sometimes families’ expectations incur costs not covered by Army regulations. Rather than letting the families incur the costs, the center devotes time to finding them help.

“My mortuary teams will reach out to different organizations and try to get that family some assistance to pay that bill for them,” said Marcum. “They’re very successful with that.”

Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center personnel go the extra mile for families
The Casualty Assistance Center handles everything including ensuring that families know where to get an American flag for funeral honors. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Families who decide to coordinate a funeral by themselves sometimes won’t think of everything required for military funeral, including a U.S. flag.

“If we get to them in time, we’ll give them instructions,” said Marcum. “If not, whenever my team gets out there, we give them a flag to go with them.”

Marcum said the staff believe so much in their mission they will even volunteer personal time to ensure the mission is accomplished. In the last fiscal quarter ending December 2023, center staff donated over 100 hours to heling families.

They also look for creative ways to improve installation programs. One such program that involves what to do in case of a mass emergency, the center has developed agreements with county coroners that, should an incident happen, will save taxpayers over $200,000.

One duty that falls on the center to manage is the massive fleet of government vehicles they need for funerals. The fleet was recently on the financial chopping block, so Marcum said he had to come up with a workaround.

“I tasked the Reserve and Guard in Michigan and Ohio to take care of those honors. The problem is, when they fill up and can’t send anybody, I have to find teams here to send up there,” said Marcum. “I’ve sent as many as 27 teams into Michigan and Ohio on one weekend besides the 50 teams that I have up there already among the Reserves and Guard.”

He coordinates those requests through units at Fort Knox, often having to find Soldiers who are playing to retire or leave the Army to accomplish the missions. Marcum said 19th Engineer Battalion Soldiers often get tasked for the missions since the unit has the most Soldiers at Fort Knox.

Tracy Boorom, casualty operations coordinator, said the center also assists families when their active-duty Soldier has been critically injured – a policy that many families may not be aware of.

“We still need to be called if somebody is hurt,” said Boorom. “We will get the family bedside. If the Soldier is in a coma, a doctor can request that the family be there. If the Soldier is coherent, he can request it.”

The center can then get the Family to the Soldier by paying for the Family’s travel expenses, or an reimburse the Family afterward. This includes if the Soldier is hospital-bound overseas.

Marcum said his team is so good at helping families that he often receives phone calls from Soldiers who have moved to other installations and will ask him and his team for help. He doesn’t let them down.

Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center personnel go the extra mile for families
Members of the Fort Knox Casualty Assistance Center stand in front of their headquarters at Fort Knox. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Due to the emotionally taxing nature of their work, morale is a big concern for Marcum, who said he tries to do something special for the team every Friday, whether it’s a breakfast or some resiliency training.

“I’m just trying to keep the morale up and give the employees another tool in their tool bag to deal with some of these very emotional situations that we go through on a daily basis,” said Marcum.  “Additionally, I always leave my door open for employees who need to talk and work with them to get time off whenever possible.”

Boorom has worked at centers on other installations and said Fort Knox holds the highest standards in care. Their work is a sacrifice worth the effort. She said they know the cost and are glad to pay it for veterans and their families.

“Every day.”