MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
As most Marines approach retirement, it is not uncommon for them to reflect on some of the most memorable times they had in the Corps.
Some may remember requesting duty at an exotic place and getting it. Others may recollect putting in for a particular special assignment and receiving that job. While others can attest that some of their most memorable Marine Corps duties came when they were stationed alongside some special Marines.
But as Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Stanley approaches his retirement in September 2010, he will leave the Corps with memories not many Marines will have.
For the past two years, Stanley, the supply chief for Inspector-Instructor, Supply Company, Detachment 2, 4th Supply Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, here, will have served as a casualty assistance calls officer, more commonly known as a CACO.
Casualty officers have the somber collateral duty of going to the home of record of a fallen service member and knocking on his or her parents’ door to notify them that their son or daughter has been killed in the line of duty.
Stanley, who has served two tours in Iraq, described his duty as a CACO as “the one job in the Corps that nobody wants.”
“I can see why it’s a collateral duty,” Stanley said. “For someone to have to do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for three or four years … it’s mentally challenging … draining. It (CACO) is probably the most humbling job there is in the Marine Corps.”
The soft-spoken gunnery sergeant is halting and hesitant on the subject of casualty calls. It is obviously a sad duty, but one he is proud to perform. During his time serving as a casualty officer, Stanley has been tasked out four or five times.
While it may be difficult for a casualty officer to try and answer all the questions from grieving family members, the most difficult question is usually: why?
The Chester, S.C., native, said when he was assigned to the position, he never thought he would actually have to perform the duties, or at least that was his hope.
As he went through the two- to three-day training he was required to take, he thought, “I’ll never have to deal with this.”
He was wrong. Reality struck for Stanley when he arrived here in May 2008. Not long after completing his CACO training he received his first assignment as the casualty officer for former Albany Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Edward Neal, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in April of that year.
“Looking back, I really appreciate them for making us sit in that classroom and watch those slide shows in 150-degree temperatures because some of the things I learned, I actually remembered when it was time to put them into action,” he said.
As difficult as his first assignment as CACO was, Stanley said things never got any easier as he continued to serve in this capacity, and it was always something different – more challenging even.
“The youngest individual I had to deal with was a two-year-old boy named Jamari whose father (Marine staff sergeant) had died in Japan,” Stanley said. “You know, sometimes when someone is that young, you can overlook different things and feelings. I wanted to pursue every avenue of approach to make sure that Jamari was taken care of.”
Stanley began researching everything he could on the Internet to determine all the benefits available for Jamari and his mother.
He used his sources in the Marine Corps, in the federal government, anything he could think of. He soon came across the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation – a foundation that provides educational benefits to anyone in the federal service.
Once he completed his phone calls, letters and research, he was able to provide Jamari’s mother with news that her son would receive $30,000 in educational bonds for his future.
“That was very important to me,” Stanley said, “I hate that Jamari lost his father to get those benefits, but it became important to me that he and his mother receive everything they rated.”
The 38-year-old father of one son said, the one thing that helps him through this very difficult process is meeting some wonderful people.
“We [all] keep each other on speed dial,” he said quietly, “and [now] every time I go to Jacksonville, Florida, Jamari’s mom always wants me to stop by so she can feed me. I’m as big as a house now,” he said as he allowed a smile to creep through.
Though Stanley admits that he usually doesn’t know the family of a deceased service member, there was one occurrence where he did – and it was one of his local church members in Albany, Ga.
“On March 22, 2010, Gunnery Sergeant Stanley was assigned to my family due to the death of my ex-husband, Master Sergeant Damian Smith,” said Tracy Jones, program analyst, Comptroller Officer, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
“As the casualty assistance care officer for my family, he went above and beyond the call of duty. He stepped out of the role of ‘Gunz’ and truly took on that father role for my children. He took the additional stress off of myself and allowed me to truly focus on getting my son through his high school graduation which was in May 2010.”
Jones added that Stanley also reached out to her former in-laws in Uniondale, N.Y., and made sure that all travel documents she submitted for payment were processed for her sister-in-law.
“He didn’t have to do that, but he did,” Jones said.
Stanley admits that he didn’t volunteer for any of the CACO duties, but was rather “volun-told.” However, he understood the sensitivity and dedication required for this very important role.
Just as he did with two-year-old Jamari, Stanley got educational benefits for Jones’s son, Dante, who will be attending college during the summer using an additional $30,000 dollars.
“Gunny Stanley contacted me with the news of the scholarship in April, and on May 30, 2010, Donte’ was presented with a $30,000 scholarship for college. He is currently attending Darton College on this scholarship. For any single parent, this takes the worry off of you, knowing that college is paid for.”
For Stanley, the solemn duty of CACO has seemed to evolve. The duty he hoped he would never have to perform has actually extended his family in a sense.
“I am a CACO for life,” Stanley now states. “That means that no matter what, these family members can get information from me throughout our lifetimes.”
As the gunny continues to look forward to his retirement in just two months, it will be the last two years of his 20-year Marine Corps career that will stand out the most – the time he spent as a CACO.
“Any time I get an update on available resources for family members of deceased Marines I simply send out an e-mail to all my contacts entitled, ‘I know we don’t want to talk about these topics, but this is something to put in your tool box,’” he said.
Stanley, his wife of 10 years Candita, and their 13-year-old son JaWaun, will soon be moving on to their next phase of life with the gunnery sergeant’s upcoming retirement.
But his small family realizes that wherever the next phase in life takes them, their lives will forever be impacted by the CACO’s new extended family because, as he quietly put it, “it’s the least you can do.”