I had the distinct honor to be a casualty assistance officer (CAO) as one of my final assignments before leaving the military. I was on rear detachment as my team didn’t deploy while most of our company had set off for Afghanistan. We, unfortunately, lost several men on that trip to Afghanistan.

It was early morning and on the phone was the company sergeant-major. A friend of mine had died in Afghanistan. He asked who we had available to be the casualty notification officer (CNO) and who we had available to be the CAO.

The mission of the casualty assistance officer (CAO) is to provide assistance to the grieving families of deceased military personnel, active duty and retired. The officer provides the final demonstration of our nation’s gratitude to those who faithfully defend our country in peace and war.

The casualty notification officer is the person who shows up at your door wearing their dress uniform. They are with the chaplain to notify the widow of what had happened. This typically takes place within four hours of the death. If that four-hour window is the middle of the night, they will wait, sometimes outside the house, until someone is awake and break the most devastating news to the family.

Bearers of Grim News

The sergeant-major asked who we had to be the CAO. In the back of my mind, I knew I was the one that made the most sense; I volunteered. Off I raced to get my uniform on, then to the Fort Bragg office to get all the needed info. I would arrive one hour after the widow was notified.

The widow had never met me before. I knew the soldier from work; hell, we were in the same hall for years. He was always in a good mood, first to help anyone and a consummate professional. He was a warrior.

You see, in the world of Special Operations, specifically within Special Forces, we all are one person removed from each other. Meaning that I may not know you; however, we know someone in common if given enough time. This is often true when meeting old SF guys at Charlie Mike’s or the local SF Association. This gives you an idea of just how small the community is.

There When Brothers Die: The Duties of a Casualty Assistance Officer
A casualty notification officer performing his duty.

I knocked on the widow’s door. A woman answered. She was sad, but by the look on her face, I could tell it wasn’t our widow. I walked into the home. I wanted to show her strength, professionalism, and compassion, as our Regiment had just received its newest Gold Star widow.