FORT McCOY, Wis. –
The role of a casualty notification or assistance officer is a solemn duty performed by the men and women of the armed services.
For the 88th Readiness Division, that mission flows through the casualty operations branch and requires participation by all Soldiers sergeant first class, captain, chief warrant officer 2 and above to be trained and ready to assume those duties.
“America trusts us with their sons and daughters,” said David Boots, chief, casualty operations branch, 88th RD. “As leaders of these Soldiers we’re responsible for their lives. We’re also responsible for taking care of their family if they make the ultimate sacrifice in service of this country. This is your ultimate requirement. It’s a huge priority.”
Prior to COVID travel restrictions, the only way a Soldier could be trained was through a three-day, in-person training certification program. However, Boots and his team requested permission to amend the course so that it could be conducted online via MSTeams.
“As our numbers dipped down to almost inoperability to support the mission, we had to have a solution,” Boots said of the need to create an alternative to in-person learning. “We spent probably two months in research and development. Then we launched a pilot. It took us into the future and really improved efficiency.”
The previous training plan allowed Boots and his team of trainers to effectively instruct 100 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers per month. Now, with the use of online training platforms, they are able to reach triple the number of Soldiers at fraction of the cost.
“This online training program has not only allowed us to develop a larger, more robust force to support the mission, it’s provided the way ahead into the future to continue doing so,” Boots said. “It has reduced operational cost, TDY cost, lost man hours. The last estimate we had for USAR overall is over $5 million in TDY costs we saved to train over 3,500 Soldiers this way.”
To achieve the total participation goal, it is a collaborative effort from Soldiers as well as commanders. There is a U.S. Army Reserve Command operations order that dictates the mandatory requirement for the above-mentioned ranks. However, not every Soldier has completed the required training.
“It’s a mandatory task. As much as it is the Soldier’s responsibility to take the ACFT, or to attend weapons qual or SHARP training, it’s their responsibility to be CNO/CAO trained,” said Maj. Christian Friesenborg, casualty operations special projects, U.S. Army Reserve Command.
The need for casualty assistance and notification officers is continuous. Boots said in fiscal year 21, there were 609 individual cases. Of which, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers responded to 242 of them. Each case is unique and the response requires some of equal or greater rank. This can cause an issue for a unit that does not have a diverse rank of trained personnel.
“What needs to be understood in terms of trying to assign a 60 percent or a 70 percent for mission capable, is that with every mission, because it is dependent on the rank of the deceased,” Friesenborg said. “You can’t really go off a ‘we have a percentage of our unit that’s trained’ because the mission comes in and they have four O-4s and none of them are trained, but they’re at 70 percent so they can’t support the mission. This is a case where it has to be at 100 percent because the mission is always different.”
What it comes down to, Boots said, is treating your fellow Soldiers as you want to be treated.
“We have this expectation that if we die in service to our country, the Army’s going to step in and take care of our family,” he said. “In order to do that, there’s not some magical entity out there that does that. We take care of our own.”