By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely | 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 50th Force Support Squadron Casualty Augmentation Support Team provides Team Schriever with a timely casualty response.
When a call is received, regardless of the time or date, members of CAST must respond to the Air Force Personnel Center within 45 minutes of receiving notification.
“We’re the main recorders and reporters of a casualty,” said Staff Sgt. Kiara Kashner, 50th FSS noncommissioned officer in charge of CAST and career development supervisor. “We work in a timely manner to ensure we can notify the next of kin as soon as possible. If someone passes away or gets seriously hurt, we want to be the ones to notify the family first.”
The CAST is responsible for assembling a notification team including a chaplain and a ranking official in the deceased service members unit. From there, CAST will brief the notification team on what happened and how to execute their duties.
“The most important thing is to mitigate any cross talk and rumors,” said John Gamer, 50th FSS casualty assistance representative. “We don’t want [family] to hear about things that may not be true.”
For military members, updating their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance and Virtual Record of Emergency Data is vital as they take precedence over a will and testament. Not updating those documents can result in families not receiving the benefits they’re entitled.
“We’ve seen in the past, those documents haven’t been updated to reflect current information,” Gamer said. “For us to have to sit down in front of a widow to tell them they’re not listed as a beneficiary, it’s devastating.”
The team is made up of FSS Airmen due to their access to personnel related programs. The team will usually have an NCO and multiple Airmen. Currently there are six Airmen on the team.
“Schriever is a small base, you get to know everyone at some point,” Kashner said. “In personnel, we see everyone when they in-process and out-process. We’ve had cases where the deceased or injured were friends with a CAST member, we’ve had to take those members off the team for the case because we knew it would affect them. You have to be mentally ready, this job can get to people.”
The team carries an on-call phone which rotates weekly throughout the unit. They have responded to suicides, serious injuries and casualties that have occurred while participating in high-risk activities.
CAST works to ensure families can access grief councling, monetary support and be enrolled into the Air Force Families Forever program. The AFFF program assigns the family of the fallen member a financial counselor who will do taxes, take care of investments, budgeting and will contact creditors to find out what bills need to be paid.
“You find the reward in knowing what we’re doing as a team is going to get that next of kin and family members the benefits they’re entitled,” Gamer said. “Knowing we’re getting them the available resources and support they need and that we’re doing everything we can to support that family in their darkest time is the only reward.”
The unit also provides support to families of Airmen who get seriously ill or injured.
If a service member gets seriously ill, injured or hospitalized, CAST will help arrange emergency family member travel. The primary next of kin can then be put on military orders and flown out by the Air Force to see their injured family member, regardless of where they are. Lodging will be covered and per diem will be provided.
“Providing resources and telling the family, ‘we’ve got this’ and, ‘we’re going to take care of you’ is one of the most important things they can hear,” Gamer said.