Saturday, February 17, 2007

Perspective: A soldier's saddest duty

Michael Balsley

The call to his cell phone from state headquarters came as Maj. John Preston was driving home from work at the armory in Walnut Creek at 4:45 p.m. The officer told him there was a casualty, a soldier killed in Iraq, from a neighborhood within what the Army called his geographics. Preston was given the grim task of telling the parents of Pfc. Michael Balsley of Hayward their son was dead.

Preston turned around and headed toward his office at the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery, 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard.

Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, at least 3,133 American men and women in uniform have been killed in that country. So virtually every day somewhere in the United States a military officer -- and often more than one -- has to serve as a casualty notification officer.

For Preston, who had signed up at 17 and was now 43 with some gray in his military haircut, this was the first time he had been called upon to perform what was perhaps the most wrenching task facing a stateside soldier. He had never been in combat.

He was, however, trained in casualty notification. That gave him a baseline of knowledge, the proper way to go about telling parents that their child was dead. If there is such a thing as a proper way.

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle