The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have greatly increased the work of small units in the military services with very challenging duties _ notifying the next of kin about the death of a soldier.
At a House Armed Services subcommitee hearing this week, military officials who oversee the notification process told lawmakers that they strive to give as much information as possible as soon as possible about a soldier’s death and help family members through the painful next steps.
For the U.S. Army, which has sustained the most casualties since the wars began, casualty notification officers and casualty assistance officers are trained prior to the duty. Chaplains now participate in about three-fourths of the notifications.
The notification process has received some scrutiny since the 2004 death of U.S. Army Corp. Pat Tillman, the former NFL star who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Tillman’s family was first told that he died in an ambush, and a lengthy investigation was conducted to find out why the family was given erroneous information.
The Army has since taken several steps to avoid such missteps, including a requirement that all hostile deaths be investigated. And, when friendly fire is suspected, families must be told that the death is under investigation.
Brigadier Gen. Reuben D. Jones, adjutant general of the Army, told the subcommittee last week that, since Tillman’s death, the Army had conducted over 2,100 official casualty notifications. Of those, 16 were reported as possibly caused by friendly fire and later confirmed. Another 15 were initially reported as deaths by hostile fire but later corrected when officials learned that friendly fire was the possible cause.
“The Army’s goal is to be open and honest with the families of our fallen soldiers, to care for their well-being and to keep them informed of developments or changed circumstances,” Jones told the lawmakers. “We owe them nothing less.”