Newman: It’s not just a headline, it’s a tragedy |

Newman: It’s not just a headline, it’s a tragedy

Joel Newman
Valley Voices
CDR Joel D. Newman, Chaplain, USN (Ret)
Special to the Daily

The headline read, “11 US Marines and a Navy medic killed and several wounded in Kabul blast.” What happens when a marine or sailor, soldier or airman is killed in combat? How quickly do the ripples of sadness and anger over their death travel in such a short time? The tragedy is their death, but the lives touched within minutes are immeasurable.

It was not that many years ago that I participated in a Non-combat Evacuation Operation off the 11th MEU with my marines. Whenever we left the ship, the last words of our gunny were “Keep your head on a swivel.”

But I can tell you from 24 years of experience as a Navy chaplain serving with marines, that it was easier being on the front lines than in the rear. When a marine or sailor was killed in combat, the location of their death immediately went into “River City” – which meant that all lines of communication off the base were shut down. The only calls made were back to the rear (in my case Camp Pendleton, California) where my colonel would receive the call, and he then would call his Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) team. I would receive the call in my home with the words, “Chaplain, we need you come into the office, now.” I had 30 minutes to get into my service dress blues or dress whites uniform and arrive at the base prepared to drive to the home of the family of the marine who was killed just hours before.

As our government van drove off to the home of a wife, parent, child, brother or sister, these family members had no knowledge that we were about to knock on their door and tell them their marine was killed. Upon arriving near their home in San Diego, we would then wait until the other vans around the country carrying other CACO teams arrived at their homes, that way the parents, spouse and siblings would all receive the tragic news at the same time.

There is no worse feeling than standing at the door with your commanding officer and many times the medical officer, knocking several times and watching the door open. You are not even given a chance to recite the “scripted words” before the loved one sees you in your dress uniform and understands that the worst news possible is now a realization.

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I made too many of these calls over the years, so when news breaks that 11 U.S. marines and a Navy medic were killed and several wounded in Kabul, I understand what their fellow marines are feeling and what the many, many CACO teams throughout the country are going through within minutes of the blast.

Don’t read the headline and say, “Our thoughts and prayers.” Instead, be thankful that we have brave and selfless marines and sailors, as well as those military members that are willing to knock on the door and offer the loved one a hug with understanding that we are there for them. God bless America.

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