Army casualty officer by day, Santa by night - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Army casualty officer by day, Santa by night

Steve Humphries Steve Humphries
Steve Humphries Steve Humphries
Steve Humphries Steve Humphries
Steve Humphries Steve Humphries
FORT POLK, LA (KPLC) -

It's been a deadly 10 years for America's military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

That has kept military casualty assistance officers around the country busy, including in southwest Louisiana.

Military funerals are a common sight in today's America. At every funeral, there's a family – a family that was visited by a casualty assistance officer.

At Fort Polk, Steve Humphries serves as the chief of casualty assistance.

"Not everybody can work here. We all have to have heart. Everyone that works on my staff are hand selected. They're very talented in what they do in helping surviving family members and soldiers when actions occur that are unfortunate, could be possibly the greatest tragedy in a family's life," Humphries said.

Humphries' staff trains soldiers to deliver the heartbreaking news and in severe circumstances, they go along.

"The loss of any soldier is traumatic. Every one of them are special. When you talk to a young wife who's just lost her husband in Afghanistan. It's what soldiers sign up to do, it's an unfortunate circumstance, and military wives are very strong," he said. "When you sit there and look at a wife hugging a casket with a flag draped, knowing he's there, that's always saddening. But every soldier, every retiree that dies are special."

Unit memorials allow families a chance to preserve the special memories. Humphries said there are some he will never forget.

"The little three-year-old daughter went up to the picture and kissed it and said that's my daddy … sorry … very touching," he said.

But when Humphries isn't dealing with loss, he's bringing cheer to those who need it the most … as Santa Claus, complete with a real beard, a special sleigh and his "naughty or nice" list.

Humphries specializes in special needs and autistic children, but also military children.

"When you ask them what they want for Christmas, you know a lot of children will say I'd like a toy or I'd like this, but when you have that one child that says I want my daddy to come home. Tough moment. Sorry. Little hard," he said.

Humphries, however, always has an answer for them.

"Your daddy will come home safe, and we'll all say prayers for him," he said.

Complete with a Victorian Santa suit and gold-rimmed glasses, Humphries wishes all of the children good cheer,"

"Ho, ho, ho … Merry Christmas," he said.

Humphries said that many children hand-deliver letters to him. He saves them all and has six years' worth in a big book.

Copyright 2012 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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