MILFORD, Mass. - Forlorn footsteps on a creaky porch foreshadow a tragic message. A somber officer and a military chaplain ring the doorbell to a home in Massachusetts. They bear news that no one wants to hear, but someone has to carry the burden and inform those close to fallen heroes.
The Casualty Notification and Casualty Assistance Course held here, Jan. 8 and 9, 2011. trains officers and noncommissioned officers to bring the news of a deceased Soldier to his next of kin.
It is a minimum of two eight-hour days that include information on regulations to follow and the resources available to the families, said Deborah B. Vivyan, Northeastern Regional Casualty Assistance Trainer. Vivyan works out of Fort Drum, N.Y., Casualty Assistance Office and has been teaching since October of 2005.
The two-day course offers certification for volunteers whom hold the rank of sergeant first class and above, as well as captain and above, said Maj. Peter E. Fiorentino, Casualty Operations Officer in Charge.
The certified CAO and CNO will handle the delicate situation of death in two distinct ways.
“First, the CNO gets information from Fort Drum Casualty Assistance Center about a Soldier who has passed away and has a primary or secondary next of kin in Massachusetts,” said Capt. Andrew D. Parris, Executive Officer, HHD Detachment here, a certified CNO and CAO. “After that, the CNO, accompanied by a chaplain will go to the family’s home to inform them of the tragic news.“
Parris is in charge of coordinating the current course.
Once the CNO has informed the family, the CAO reaches out to assist the families with funeral arrangements, military aid and outside sources for assistance, Parris said.
The course does the best it can to prepare you for what you’re about to handle, said Master Sgt. Anthony W. Brown, CNO and CAO here for the last 15 months. However, the training does not prepare you for the emotions.
“The training teaches you to be professional, but you have to be human at the same time,” said Brown. “As Soldiers, we shouldn’t be afraid to show emotion and empathy towards each other or families.”
Brown also aids in the coordination of the class because of his experience as a full-time CAO and CNO.
Due to the changing family situations that often do not revolve around the traditional nuclear family, the class also offers information about outside resources that can help families to cope, Brown said.
The Department of the Army only takes care of so much, but there is still unfinished business most of the time outside of regulations, said Fiorentino. And that is where non-profit groups come in and help.
“The Military Friends Foundation is a non-profit proudly serving Massachusetts National Guard, Reserve and Gold Star Families,” said Sarah Keller-Likins, Executive Director of Military Friends. “We assist eligible Guard, Reserve and Gold Star Families in times of need.”
A Gold Star Family is a family which has lost a member in service to our country.
Some of their programs include Massachusetts Cares Grants, Needs-Based Grants and Patriot Scholar, a scholarship for graduating seniors or college freshmen with a parent deployed overseas in the National Guard or Reserve.
Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund is another non-profit, which the CNO and CAO course introduces.
MMHF helps Gold Star Families, said Diane M. Nealon, Executive Director of MMHF. They help with limited financial support and emergency funding.
Furthermore, MMHF has a basic needs assistance program that aids families struggling with grief to get their life back on track, Nealon said.
“After the services, reality sets in and that’s what we are here for,” said Lissa J. Haynes, a Blue to Gold Liaison for Blue star Mothers. Haynes works in Central and Western Massachusetts.
Blue Star Mothers is a Veterans service organization consisting of mothers who now have, or have had, children honorably serving in the military, who are dedicated to supporting their military children while promoting patriotism.
The Blue Star Mother’s honor fallen heroes and offer themselves as a resource to the families, said Rose Marie T. Annese, a Blue to Gold Liaison covering North and Central Massachusetts.
“We assist in any way possible,” said Annese. “We also introduce TAPs, or the Tragedy Assistance Program.”
The Patriot Guard is a group that show respect at funerals for fallen Soldiers, said Howard Shrut the Captain of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Patriot Guard.
Composed of motorcyclist and non-riders, the organization works to counter the picketing of funeral’s in non-violent ways, said Shrut.
In the end, the course is crucial because of what it provides for new CNO and CAO’s. It gives them a wealth of knowledge to perform their mission to the peak of their ability.
The job itself is extremely important. Although tragic, notifying or assisting the closest relatives to a fallen hero is an integral part of the National Guard’s commitment to supporting the families of servicemembers.
“Doing this job is a humbling experience,” said Parris. “It’s an honor to provide this service to the family. The Soldier is well deserving of the respect.”