Originally created 03/31/03

Soldiers train for sad job

FORT STEWART, Ga. - Staff Sgt. Mary Moore has the grimmest job a soldier can draw. She must notify the next of kin when a soldier is wounded or killed in battle.

"I'm prepared to do what has to be done," Staff Sgt. Moore said. "I expected to get tasked with the duty. My husband is over there, and I've been keeping abreast of the news just in case I have to go into action. I feel I am up to the job."

She is assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, 123rd Signal Battalion. In addition to her normal duties, she will serve either as notification officer or casualty assistant officer, depending on how she is assigned by the officer in charge.

The notification officer must deliver the dreaded news to the next of kin. The casualty assistance officer helps family members with such things as planning the burial and collecting insurance claims.

Staff Sgt. Moore and six other Fort Stewart rear-detachment soldiers attended a two-hour class on these duties.

First Lt. Kenneth Fillmore, the chief of operations for the Casualty Center, taught the class. He tried to provide a glimpse of what the senior noncommissioned and commissioned officers may encounter.

"I'm not going to slight you," he told the class. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I'm just going to give it to you plain. This will be one of the most difficult jobs you will be asked to perform while in the military."

First Lt. Fillmore urged the soldiers to tell him whether they weren't up to the task and he would remove them from the list.

No one spoke up.

"You have to know it is very difficult," 1st Lt. Fillmore said. "You are dealing with emotions. Yours and theirs."

First Lt. Fillmore has made two death notifications since January.

"As the notification officer, you need to keep the casualty assistant officer informed how upset or belligerent a family member may became upon your initial visit," he explained. "We don't want to send an assistant officer in a situation in which they may be injured."

According to Department of the Army policies, notification officers are required to wear the Class A uniform when making initial contact and must have a rank equal to or higher than that of the dead or wounded soldier. Notification must take place between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. If possible, the primary next of kin will be notified before the secondary next of kin.

The casualty assistant officer operates in two phases: the period from notification to burial, and the period from burial through 90 days afterward. Each officer gets $6,000 to be used to defray funeral expenses. The chief duty is to finalize funeral arrangements with the primary next of kin.

According to Personnel Adjutant General Jake Umholtz, the notification process begins with the event. Casualty reports are issued by the unit or local hospital and transmitted to the Theater Casualty Area Command. From there, it goes to the Casualty Center for notifying next of kin.

"At no time will a phone call be made in the case of a fatality," he said.

However, calls may be placed in cases of seriously injured soldiers.

According to Richard Olson, the chief of public affairs, the procedure doesn't change even if it was reported beforehand on television.

"Wars have been covered over 100 years," he said.


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