Marine First Sergeant an Angel to the Fallen

Military members across the country are assigned with the tough duty as Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) … they are the ones who have the tough duty of informing parents, siblings and spouses that they’re military member has died.  Here’s a beautifully told story about First Sergeant Amber Kash’s experiences telling three families about their losses. Grab your tissues, this one’s moving!

Semper Fidelis!

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The Marine in dress greens appeared on the front porch of the East Northport home on a warm July morning.

"Do you have a son, Cpl. Christopher Scherer, in the Marines . . . ?" she began. "The commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret . . ."

Janet and Timothy Scherer’s 21-year-old son had been killed by a sniper hours earlier in Iraq.  First Sgt. Amber Kash, a casualty assistance calls officer (CACO), stood at the front door to deliver the news. The impression she made that day, July 21, 2007 – her sad, serious face, how her lips moved when she spoke, how her voice and her words seemed so unreal, how she delivered a message so filled with pain – have stayed with the couple every day since.

The Scherers and two other families she would later notify of combat deaths say that Amber, as they affectionately call her, melds duty with compassion.

She has returned often to the Scherer home to sit and talk with them, to let them know she was still there. Nearly three years after appearing on the porch, Kash has remained a vital presence in the couple’s lives – a Marine who came on official business to tell an American family their son was dead, and stayed on as a friend. It is the same with members of two other families to whom she brought similar news – JoAnn Lyles in Sag Harbor , and Bob and Janet Argentine in Farmingdale .

This week, Kash will leave Long Island to begin a new deployment at Camp Lejeune , N.C. Among the treasured belongings she will take with her are copies of the dog tags worn by each of the Long Island Marines whose deaths she announced.

Families have grown attached

The families say Kash’s departure will tear at them. For her part, Kash says, her voice breaking, the families will live in her heart for the rest of her life. Notifying them of their sons’ deaths deeply affected her as it fundamentally changed them.

"The Marines are Semper Fidelis, always faithful. And I can see through Amber that that is etched in their soul, that she will always take care of me," said JoAnn Lyles, whose son Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter was killed in Iraq .

In the eight years since the United States first began sending troops to Afghanistan and later to Iraq, casualty officers representing all five military branches have visited the next of kin of the nearly 6,500 troops who have been killed in action – including at least 45 from Long Island.

Not only do casualty assistance calls officers inform families of a service member’s death, they are expected to remain in close contact with the family through the funeral and beyond. In addition to comforting the bereaved, the casualty officer handles myriad details that a military death brings with it.

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