Military duties can take personal toll

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Sgt. 1st Class Terry Stevens said keeping his emotions in check is the hardest part of acting as a liaison for local families of soldiers who die in the service.

As a casualty assistance officer for the New Mexico Army National Guard unit in Clovis, Stevens has been assisting the family of Clovis’ second and most recent war casualty, Army Sgt. Leroy “JR” Segura Jr.

The 24-year-old soldier was killed Aug. 4 in a vehicle accident in Iraq.

“For me personally, it is a very emotional experience to go through,” Stevens said. “I kind of tend to wear my heart on my sleeve anyway, and when I deal with stuff like this, it becomes very personal to me. It’s my job to make sure the family knows that the Army does care and that I personally do care. It does get emotional, but for the sake of the family you have to control it,” he said.

For six months after a death, Stevens, 46, functions as a conduit between the military and survivors.

Stevens said the relationship he has forged with the Segura family, as he has helped them navigate the military system and settle their son’s affairs, has gone beyond standard duty.

“It really is a friendship — I still plan on visiting and making sure they are doing well,” he said. “My obligation (to them) might be over in six months, but my personal obligation is never over with.”

Sandra Segura, mother of Leroy Segura Jr., politely declined comment.

Stevens said he is assigned to families on a case-by-case basis.

The particulars of Department of Defense paperwork, protocol and procedure are often a foreign language to civilian survivors of soldiers lost in the line of duty. Knowing this, the department appoints military personnel to help guide family members through the process of settling their loved one’s affairs, Stevens said.

“I’m basically the liaison between the family and the military. I do whatever the family asks me to do to help them out and just be there for the family and offer them whatever support they need,” Stevens said.

Chosen for the duty a little more than a year ago, the Portales resident was required to attend a 40-hour training course to prepare for the assignment.

Stevens admitted he was a bit daunted by the responsibility when he learned of the duty, but as it sunk in, he felt a growing sense of honor.

“To me it’s an honor to be able to serve any family member of a soldier that doesn’t make it back from war. I consider it to be a privilege and an honor to be able to serve the families of those soldiers,” he explained.

As of Tuesday, 3,127 U.S. military personnel have been classified as casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.