Mrs. Bouhammer Guest Post; FRGs are Priceless in the time of Crisis

Bouhammer Note- Mrs. Bouhammer wrote this posting yesterday when the story hit the local paper. I never had a chance to post it. However this morning, FoxNews.com ( http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,550621,00.html ) also ran a story on this same incident and confirmed many of her assumptions.

For the Record: The Military Will Never Notify any Family that THEIR soldier was Killed In Action by a Phone Call.

The Military always arrive in person for the notification. If the family is not there they will wait. If no one shows up after awhile, they will leave and then come back over and over until a face to face notification is made. The military has strict written procedures that have to be followed with no exceptions. The Person making the notification is called the CNO (Causality Notification Officer) the notification is made in person within a set timeline. The CNO will leave and the family will never see that person again. Then within a set amount of time a CAO (Causality Assistance Officer) will make contact with the fallen’s Next of Kin and will assist the family through the entire process. Every soldier acting as a CNO and CAO attends an intense training and receives a step by step manual to follow with check sheets and procedures with every action. Each step is carefully described and delivered in a matter to ensure that the fallen soldier and their family will receive the up most respect and care during this difficult process.

After eighteen years of assisting Military Families through Family Support Groups (FSG) and Family Readiness Groups (FRG), to included instructing Lead FRG Support Volunteers on how the Causality and Wounded Notification Process happens at state conferences, I can reassure every military family member that you will never get a phone call to inform you of your soldier’s death.

The reason for my above statement has to do directly with a story I read yesterday morning in my local newspaper “Soldier’s parents get worst news – then best”. In the short the story states that the family received a phone call to inform them that their soldier was killed. Then they found out through his girlfriend that he was in fact alive. Realizing that I do not have the exact facts of this case, I do based on my experience have a pretty good idea of what happen in this case.

Here is my review of the situation: The family who happens to be located near the town in which I live got a phone call from “a civilian liaison who they had spoken to before”. This statement tells me that the person that they spoke with was their Family Readiness Group Contact Person with their son’s unit because they had spoken to this person before. The family is quoted as saying that the liaison stated that “This is a red-line message. I have to read it to you exactly as it is written.” This tells me that what the FRG Contact Person was communicating to the family was that a death had occurred in the unit and the fallen soldier’s family had already been notified. I do not believe for one minute that the intent of the phone call was to inform the family of their soldier’s death. I believe the phone call was to inform the family that there had been a death in their sons unit. This is a standard procedure that occurs through out every military Family Readiness Group. The intent of such notifications is to give all deployed family members information about a combat death situation to keep the family members informed. Combat deaths affect not only the family of the soldier killed but also the soldiers in the unit which they are serving with and their families. After all, most news media outlets release unit information prior to even releasing the name of the soldier so families already know there was a death in the unit and since communication from the front lines is disabled for the first 48 hours after a death, families are left hanging waiting and worrying. By giving a Red-Line Message to family members it informs the tight knit group of the death so that group members (which usually are close friends) react to the information before it hits the news wire. This type of information can be extremely helpful in assisting soldiers who maybe having a difficult time dealing with the lost of their brother in arms. By sharing this information with its internal family members, the group can better prepare the families for the emotional condition their soldiers are dealing with. It also helps the family better understand what their soldier is enduring.

The reason the person stated that I have to read this exactly as it is written is so that everyone gets the same information and no one can embellish or add additional information. Normally additional information is shared with the family members at the next FRG meeting.

Since this military family lives so far away from the people who contacted them it is my educated guess that they had not attended any of the FRG meetings prior, to included any pre-deployment meetings. If so they would have known what a red-line message was and how that unit’s notification process works. I am sure that this family carried the normal worry about their son that all of us military family members do and sometimes in the heat of fear we do not always hear the entire message that is being shared with us. As a military parent, my heart goes out to them for not being afforded the opportunity to have this firsthand knowledge prior to that phone call.

While I believe the location to the unit’s FRG may have been the reason why this family did not have the intimate information of how red-line messages are delivered. Their soldier could have neglected to invite his family to the pre-deployment briefing leaving them at a disadvantage. I have dealt with many families who soldier decided for whatever reason that they didn’t want their loved one to attend the FRG meeting; the distant is just too far for the family to travel and would thus could be a financial burden (which may have been the case in this situation). I have also had soldiers who didn’t want their families involved in the unit support group because they have had a previous bad experience, heard rumors from other soldiers about bad experiences, or because they are hiding something from their families. Like it or not, some soldiers do not believe that what they are doing in their specific job is enough to be proud of and “they make crap up” to make their service record sound better.

It is apparent in this story that the family is not familiar with the military. Unfortunately, all of this misunderstanding could have been avoided if they had attended a Family Readiness Group meeting or at the very least a Pre-deployment meeting. As a family member, it is very easy to react in a fearful manner if you have no idea how the military works with combat messages. I am thankful their son was not killed and that this family did not have to endure the heartache that so many families have. However, I want the family and other military family members to know this happened because that soldier’s family was not informed of the process, whether that was the soldier’s fault, the families, or the units. So Family Members attend your soldiers FRG meetings, the information they put out is priceless in the time of a crisis!

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6 Responses to Mrs. Bouhammer Guest Post; FRGs are Priceless in the time of Crisis

  1. David MNo Gravatar says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/16/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. AFSisterNo Gravatar says:

    I read about that story the other day, and my first thought was “It was a prank- everyone with deployed family knows messages like that are delivered in person.” But the more I read the story, the more it sounded like it really was a death notice phone call. Now that I’ve read your analysis, I think you’re probably right.

    You know how when you ask a question, like “Do you want ice cream?”, and the answer you get is “NO… but I’d like a popsicle”, sometimes you stop really listening at “NO”?? I’m guessing this family did that. They heard “son’s.. killed” and didn’t hear the words in between- “SOMEONE IN YOUR son’s UNIT WAS killed”. Either that or the message was terribly wrong, and the FRG contact had bad information and they were just following up with the family following the CNO notice.

    Either way, I’m glad their heartache turned into tears of happiness after they found out he was ok.

  3. CassandraNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post, Mrs. B. My husband has been a battalion cdr of Marines. We did a lot of these notifications as well as serving as CACOs – the Marine equivalent of a CAO.

    If there is anything I have learned in nearly 3 decades with the Marines it’s that:

    1. Families get things wrong ALL THE TIME for a variety of reasons – some good, some bad.

    Whenever a disturbing story or rumor starts to make the rounds, it’s important to STOP, ASK QUESTIONS, and VERIFY THE FACTS before going off half cocked. If more people would do these simple things, there would be a lot less stress and misinformation out there.

    2. FRGs are indeed priceless but they are not immune to flaws in human nature. Used properly, they spread verified information from the command and keep families informed. Used improperly or in violation of some very well thought out rules, they can be used to spread panic and misinformation.

    The same is true of the Internet or any vehicle designed to inform. Which just reinforces item #1: it’s important not to suspend our critical thinking functions just b/c a story is upsetting. Stop. Ask questions. Get the facts.

    Thank you for the invaluable context you’ve provided to a difficult and painful issue.

  4. Carol StewardNo Gravatar says:

    Great explanation Mrs. Bouhammer!! You really defined the methods, reasonings and results of proper notifications. I hope a lot of people read this blog because you have taken time to spell it out so clearly that anyone should be able to understand and follow.
    Love you and see you soon!!

  5. CassNo Gravatar says:

    Good description of the situation Mrs.B. I shared your post with others. The military is a peculiar beast and most people don’t understand how it works.

  6. Army reserve dadNo Gravatar says:

    My son is deployed with another unit out of his home state. His mother an I attended the pre-deployment “yellow ribbon” event at the units home base. The classes and break out sessions that we attended never really addressed this subject specifically. They talked about insurance and the legal things but not process of communication. They gave out Unit leaders contact info and the red cross info, but not how to handle unit communication or what happens when there is a unit casualty. I give the Army Reserve credit for trying to get the families of soldiers informed about their sons (& daughters, husbands, wives and children) active military service. I can only imagine the general lack information provided in virtually every other military conflict (both WW’s Korea, Viet Nam etal) in the history of the United States. However many of the seminars were government speak. The send off was great, the band, Governor, the hotel, law enforcement & Patriot riders. Brought tears to this old man’s eyes. However the usable information was not sufficient in one parents opinion.

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