The "tip of the spear" - in the military, they are the front line; the initial attack that draws first blood. As a CACO in the United States Marine Corps, Capt. Masen delivers that leading blow, too. He's often faced with handling the collateral damage this life can bring. He's accepted that love & commitment aren't for him…until she opens the door.
CACO- Casualty Assistance Calls Officer
I rehearse the words in my head, but they're all muddled together and never sound right. I should quit making myself nuts and just wait until I get to the door.
Somehow, when the pressure is on and I'm forced to speak, it just happens.
Eloquence, sincerity and empathy.
I've been doing this for six months now and it doesn't get any easier with experience. I certainly can't say, "Practice makes perfect," in situations like these.
Because there will never be anything perfect about what I do as a CACO.
When I get the call, I always end up sick to my stomach before I report for duty. I'll forever be that nine-year-old boy at the door.
But today, I'm a twenty-eight-year-old Marine Corps Officer and that little boy needs to be stowed away.
On this day, my mission is crystal clear.
I step out of the government vehicle, straighten my cover so that it's sitting centered and low on my head and pull down tightly on my Alpha jacket.
There's no room for error. No excuse for having one ribbon out of place. It's the least I can do for this family and their world— the one I'm about to destroy.
I walk sharply to the door with the chaplain close behind.
A dog is barking as I approach and my stomach lurches in that final moment.
After getting a nod from the chaplain, I ring the doorbell.
The door, with its Christmas wreath so fragrant and festive, is mocking my reason for being here. This season will no longer hold joy for this family.
"Yes?" The woman's voice trembles because she already knows. Her hold tightens around the toddler in her arms, who reaches for the colorful ribbons on my chest.
"Mrs. Matthews." It's a statement, rather than a question. I already know I have the right house, the right person.
Even though she's wishing I was all wrong...and ultimately, I wish that, too.
"Ma'am, the Commandant of the Marine Corps regrets to inform you that your husband, Corporal Paul Matthews, was killed in combat yesterday in Iraq."
Her face drains of its color as she stumbles a step backwards, leaning down to put her baby on the floor.
I steady my nerves and ensure my shoulders are straight as I attempt to continue my speech as best I can, even though she's not listening.
Thankfully, the chaplain steps inside the door and holds her up, because she's about to collapse.
Though my words are likely falling on deaf ears, this is the task with which I'm charged.
I'm the most feared and despised officer in the Marine Corps on days like today. I'm grateful I don't have to do this every day. My job as a supply officer is usually quite mundane. On ordinary days, my biggest concern is getting a nasty paper cut.
But today, I am a CACO. Days like these are never easy. Weeks like the one we're facing are never easy.
We lost seven Marines traveling in a convoy early yesterday morning in a roadside bomb and firefight outside of Mosul.
There are three other CACOs delivering the very same news right now. And after this, I have to do it all over again tomorrow.
I don't relish this job, but I do it with pride and honor…as a last tribute to the fallen who died for their country.
I take a deep breath and step inside the house, closing the door behind me. I remove my cover and reach down to help the chaplain, this young widow and her now fatherless child.
A/N: Are you with me? I hope so.
Love and thanks to my beta, LaMomo and my pre-reading Cabana Girls: Born, Cejsmom & Jules.