Here's an article from this weekend's Miami Herald. How emotionally draining it must be for a Casualty Officer or chaplain. I've seen it written elsewhere, that they are looked at like they are angels of death. Bringing news to families that no one wants to ever hear. I could never do it myself but admire those who do. Someone has to do the job, may God give them and the families they meet strength.
Open Post- Bright & Early
TALLAHASSEE - The knock on Tammy Wise's green wooden door came about 3:30 p.m. Nov. 12, 2003.
Two officers stood outside her second-floor apartment, both in ''Class A'' green Army uniforms. One was a chaplain.
Wise had been celebrating her 44th birthday that day, and she had just returned home from a camping trip. She went to her bedroom for a fresh shirt. She took her time, moving hanger by hanger by hanger.
''If I don't go back out there,'' she thought, ``maybe they'll leave.''
They didn't leave.
She doesn't remember the exact words that Florida National Guard Lt. Blake Heidelberg used. But there is a script for these sorts of messages, a simple, to-the-point sentence. For Tammy Wise, it went something like this: ``The secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deepest regrets that your son, Robert, was killed in action.''
Since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that message has been delivered in more or less the same way about 140 times in Florida, and more than 2,700 times nationwide.
It falls to soldiers to carry that news to anxious families -- and Heidelberg, an Iraq war veteran, calls Nov. 12, 2003, the toughest day of his military career.
Spc. Robert Wise, a Tallahassee Community College student who also worked for an electrical company and was known for his community service, was killed when a roadside bomb went off near his Humvee in Baghdad. He was 21. He would later be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the first Florida National Guard soldier killed in combat to be buried there.
Heidelberg, who had met Wise during their service in the Guard, is part of a cadre of about 40 Florida Guard soldiers who have been trained to deliver death notifications.
Military officials say that such officers are assigned to help a grieving family in all of its dealings with the military.
''This is a priority mission for everybody,'' said Jake Umholtz, director of human resources for the Army's Fort Stewart, Ga.
''This is not something we take lightly,'' he said. ``The first objective is to put a very qualified individual on the job to go out with the family.''
Training includes discussions with chaplains and with officers who have gone on visits to notify families. There are also written instructions and videos on how to deliver the horrible news. And there are role-playing exercises.
The training is constant -- in part because of rapid turnover in the military. Miami will be the scene of a three-day Army training session in July, Umholtz said.
The soldiers who carry out the mission feel a special sense of duty -- and an extra measure of difficulty, said Guard Maj. Rich Hall, ``because it brings it home that this is real.''
''It drives the nail home that this is serious business,'' he said.
At the same time, though, ''you're doing your last act of service for the person who is gone,'' Hall said. ``Kind of payback for all the years of service they have put in.''
Hall delivered the news to the family of Roy Wood, a University of Miami-trained emergency-room physician from the Fort Myers area. Wood had given up his officer's commission to be deployed with his unit as a medic in Afghanistan. He was killed in a truck wreck in January 2004.
Retired Florida National Guard Sgt. Maj. John Page, a Vietnam veteran and career military man, has parachuted out of airplanes and led dangerous missions. None was more daunting than the morning he helped Hall tell Wood's family of his death.
''This was the roughest assignment I ever did,'' Page said.
David Wise, Robert Wise's father and Tammy Wise's ex-husband, said that families -- despite the pain of the message -- appreciate the messengers.
''Utmost respect,'' he said of his feelings for the two soldiers who knocked at the door of his house on Summerland Key. They tried their best to ''ease you through that time,'' he said. ``I could never say enough about the way we were treated. It was unbelievable.''
RECEIVING THE NEWS
Tammy Wise walked back into her living room that day, wearing a red and blue tie-dyed shirt, one of a matching set that she and her son had bought at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park.
She recalls that Heidelberg gently asked her if she was Tammy Wise.
And she remembers that as he told her the awful news, she felt sympathy for the soldier who stood in front of her.
''God Bless Lt. Heidelberg,'' she recalled. ``I know I kept looking at him, going: `Are you sure? . . . How do you know it was him? . . . Are you sure? . . . How do you know it was him?'
``He just kept saying, `Yes, ma'am, we're sure. Yes, ma'am, it's him.'
''He was very patient; he was very kind,'' said Wise, 46, a legal assistant for the public defender's office in Jefferson County.
Heidelberg remembers his thoughts as he approached her apartment: ``How can I present this? How can I be helpful to Mrs. Wise? What can we do for her in this horrible, horrible time?''
Hours later, when it was over and he was driving home in his truck, he remembers weeping.