He says the Guard reneged on promise to fly him to Delaware
Tragic news, frayed nerves, a time crunch and outdated military records conspired to keep the Albuquerque father of a soldier killed in Afghanistan last week from being present when his son’s remains were returned to U.S. soil.
The remains of Bill Nevins’ son, Staff Sgt. Liam J. Nevins, 32, of Denver, arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., late Monday night while Nevins’ former spouse and two daughters watched. The soldier’s flag-draped metal transfer case was unloaded from a military plane and carried by an Army honor guard to a waiting vehicle for transport to the Dover mortuary.
The “dignified transfer,” performed thousands of times since the wars in the Middle East began, is one part of the military’s efforts to assist families of fallen warriors. Bill Nevins wasn’t there.
“I would have very much liked to have been there,” Nevins said Monday, three days after his son and two other Special Forces soldiers were shot to death, reportedly by an Afghan National Security Forces soldier they were training in Gardez, Afghanistan.
Nevins contends the New Mexico National Guard told him the military would fly him to Dover for the transfer and then reneged on the offer at the last minute.
He was able to join his daughters in Philadelphia on Tuesday due to intervention from U.S Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and an airline that heard about his plight.
But he was still upset that he had missed the ceremony.
“I told my daughters that I would be there, because the military told me I would be. … But they failed to get me there, and I’ve gotten no explanation from the military,” said Nevins, a poet who teaches creative writing, filmmaking and other classes at the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College.
Guard officials say they made every effort to get Nevins to Dover, but time simply ran out.
Capt. Brian Raphael, public affairs for the state Guard, said Friday that Guard officials were notified of Nevins’ death at 5:08 p.m. Sept. 22 by the Fort Bliss Casualty Assistance Center in El Paso. It is military protocol to assign military personnel to assist families of troops killed in the line of duty.
Problems arose immediately, Raphael said. A military form listed William Nevins as the soldier’s father but provided no address, and Nevins’ phone number is unlisted. Subsequent efforts by the assistance center turned up three potential addresses for him.
The officer assigned to the case, Maj. Robert Aguilar, was finally able to leave a voice mail for Nevins on Sunday.
Nevins called back Sunday evening.
From there, Nevins’ and the Guard’s explanation of what happened differ.
Raphael said Nevins didn’t appear to necessarily want Aguilar’s help but did want to attend the transfer.
However, the casualty assistance office told Aguilar it would continue planning transportation to Dover in case Nevins changed his mind and requested that a casualty assistance officer be assigned to travel with him. The Guard assigned Sgt. 1st Class Alex Romero to that role, Raphael said.
At 8:25 a.m. Monday, Nevins called Guard officials and was told Romero would be available to answer questions and arrange the trip to Dover.
Raphael said Nevins was still undecided about the trip.
A half hour later, a friend of Nevins called the Guard requesting more information about the Dover trip, Raphael said. The caller said Nevins had decided to go to Dover and was told Romero was en route to Nevins’ home.
Raphael said the sergeant arrived and, by that time, had to inform Nevins it was too late to make the trip to Dover in time for the transfer, which was scheduled for 11 p.m. that night.
Nevins, however, said Romero arrived in fatigues and told him the trip was on. He said Romero had him sign some documents and told him he had to return to his home in Rio Rancho to pack and would meet him at the Sunport.
Nevins said his friend took him to the airport and, when Romero did not show up, returned him to his home.
His friend called Lujan Grisham’s office and explained Nivens’ situation.
“I’m grateful to Congresswoman Lujan Grisham and American Airlines for getting me to Pennsylvania to be with my daughters,” Nevins said Monday night. Nivens arrived in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, courtesy of the airlines. He plans on being in Denver for his son’s funeral, which had not yet been scheduled.
“It does seem that the military didn’t do the right thing here,” Nivens said.
In a statement Friday, Raphael said, “The New Mexico National Guard expresses its sincere condolences to the entire Nevins family for loss of Staff Sgt. Liam Nevins and understands the difficulty of dealing with such news. We greatly appreciate his selfless service and sacrifice along with the sacrifice of his family.”