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This article was prepared for the April 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines
Two dozen staffers at Assist America’s telephone center
at Lawrence Commons, near the Mercer Mall, fielded 107 questions in
September, 2001, that were directly related to terrorist action. Last
week, as a result of the war in Iraq, they had even sadder duties
to perform — helping to transport the remains of two American
journalists who were traveling with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
The two were among at least 12 civilian journalists killed during
the three-week conflict, a somewhat shocking ratio when compared with
U.S. military casualties.
Michael Kelly, 46, was killed on April 4 along with a U.S. soldier
when their Humvee plunged into a canal south of Baghdad. Kelly was
editor at large for the Atlantic Monthly and a syndicated columnist
for the Washington Post. NBC correspondent David Bloom, 39, was south
of Baghdad when he collapsed and later died from a pulmonary embolism.
The U.S. military takes care of transporting the bodies of soldiers
who die overseas, whether in combat or in peacetime, but civilian
families have to make their own arrangements. Assist America served
as liaison with the military to help return the journalists’ remains
to Dover, Delaware.
"Only one of the journalists was our client, but we were eager
to help both families. We are pleased to have somehow contributed
during this very difficult time," says George Howard, CEO of the
13-year-old agency. His headquarters are at 1 Palmer Square and the
company has 31 employees in New Jersey, plus offices in Saudi Arabia,
Malaysia, and Manila (U.S. 1, October 24, 2001).
The nation’s largest provider of global emergency medical travel services,
Assist America coordinates travelers’ medical benefits for more than
250,000 American companies (www.assistamerica.com). In the worst case
scenarios, where there has been a death, Assist America procures the
required documentation and death certificates, arranges and pays for
the transportation, and brings the remains home for burial.
"It can be difficult to work with the bureaucracy, but when we
transported the remains of Michael Kelly, we developed a very positive
relationship with the facility in Dover. So when David Bloom died,
the government told the family to contact us," says Howard. "We
all felt like we knew him — he had been in our living rooms a
thousand times. We all somehow wanted to participate in what was going
on over there. One of our staffers, Ken Guy, went above and beyond
the usual to be sure everything worked exactly right. Although we
were glad to help in this circumstance, we hope we won’t be called
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check for $18.95 and we will mail one first class. See page 49 for
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