Assisting the Family of a Fallen Service Member as they travel to and from Dover Air Force Base for the Dignified Transfer of their loved one is the exclusive responsibility of USO Airport Lounge volunteers.
“It was one of the most poignant volunteer functions I have had the honor and responsibility to assist with during my time at the USO”, said Rich Arnold, USO Dulles volunteer, when asked about his experience assisting a family.
Arnold was there as the family exited their first flight to Washington Dulles International Airport. He recalls the look on their faces. The spouse had a faraway gaze. It appeared to Arnold that she was processing what was happening to her and her children. Her younger children looked sad and seemed to focus on the distractions and activity of the busy airport. The older children were quiet and somber.
For Arnold, a retired military member, the most touching moments for him were the ones he spent with the Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO), the active duty service member assigned to help the family through the Dignified Transfer process. The CAO was from the same outfit as the deceased and the experience seemed, at times, to weigh heavily on him.
While supporting the family, Arnold spent some time in quiet conversation with the CAO. “You could almost see the ‘Why him and not me?’ loop running through his head. Many of us have been there - it is not something you forget,” said Arnold.
The assistance provided by Dulles Airport personnel was impressive, recalls Arnold. The store clerk who helped with water and snacks. The United Airlines Club staff who provided the family a quiet, private place to wait between flights. The TSA and United Airlines gate agents who all contributed to a less stressful transition through the airport for the family. They all worked to quietly and unobtrusively help this family bear the unbearable.
This experience reinforced for Arnold that “Most people are good and many are great. Take any good person and put them in a situation where someone needs help and they often become great.”
To see previous stories from the Memorial Day series click the links below:
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