FORT CARSON, Colo. - Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Hodges said he knows he has one of the toughest jobs in the Army. He is a casualty assistance officer, the person assigned to help Families immediately after notification of the death of their loved one serving in the military.
Hodges, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, previously worked as a CAO at Fort Bragg, N.C., and received his recertification during a training class held by the Fort Carson Casualty Assistance Center at the Family Readiness Center July 20-23.
The four-day class certifies CAOs, as well as casualty notification officers, the Soldiers who first notify a Family of their loss. After notification, it is then the job of the CAO to stay with the Family as long as necessary to help them through their loss in any way possible.
Their job is to assist with almost anything, such as travel arrangements, immediate financial needs, set up counseling, help with the paperwork that can overwhelm a Family member from insurance forms to funeral arrangements, or even just be there as someone to talk to or lean on emotionally.
The CAO also helps Family members to understand all their
legal rights, benefits, privileges, and entitlements that are available, and can assist them throughout the entire process.
While being a CAO or CNO can be tough on a Soldier, Jean Graves, training instructor for the Casualty Assistance Center, said part of her job is to make sure they remember it is even tougher on the Family they are there to help.
"This is something that touches close to home for them and the thought of actually notifying or assisting a Family is pretty scary. I always tell them it's not about how they feel, it's about those surviving Family members, those spouses, those kids, those parents ... it's all about taking care of the Family," she said.
One Soldier who attended the class said he had a very personal reason for becoming a CAO. Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Roebuck, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regiment, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div., said he lost his best friend and fellow Soldier recently, and saw firsthand how important the CAO was to his Family.
"The importance of this position is knowing that this is what the Family is (owed), because their Soldier has given the ultimate sacrifice, and the Family needs to know the Army still cares," he said.
Hodges originally received his certification through an online process years ago, which he said took only four to five hours to complete. He said he sees many advantages with the classroom style currently offered.
"Instead of reading a lot of information, you get to ask a lot of questions and have folks come in that have either done (work as a CAO), or they may be survivors that have experienced people doing my job and can help me do it better later on," he said.
Hodges said he is recertifying because the job is extremely rewarding personally.
"I have 20 years in the Army, and I love caring for Soldiers. I intend to care for Soldiers when I get out of the military. A lot of jobs I've had, not just as a noncommissioned officer, but special assignments (such as) equal opportunity and victim's advocate, are about taking care of Soldiers and their Families. I just really enjoy it," he said.
Graves said many Soldiers come to her class with a great deal of trepidation, but once they complete the course they leave knowing what they do is something very special.
"From those Soldiers that I've met who actually perform this duty, despite their fears and concerns and apprehensions going into this duty, they all have come back and stated that it was one of the most rewarding and honorable jobs they were ever asked to do in the Army," she said.
The next certification class starts Aug. 17, shortened from four days to three. Soldiers interested in becoming a CNO or CAO must hold the rank of sergeant first class or above if enlisted, chief warrant officer two or above for warrant officers, and captain or above for officers.
The certification is good for one year, with recertification completed by attending the first two days of training held monthly in the classroom, or by completing a recertification course online. For more information about the program, contact the Casualty Assistance Center at 526-5613.