Sunday, February 26, 2012

WIA Notification.

Please read my follow-up post to this matter by clicking on this line. 

is but a small blog with a few hundred (awesome) followers but I hope this information reaches those who need it most. As the text message heard around the Army world goes viral, it's time to talk. I don't have much to say about such a horrible KIA notification that hasn't already been said, other than that the soldier who blabbed to his wife and the command who didn't send a proper notification team immediately all deserve to be severely punished. OPSEC isn't just about those down range; it's also about the families back home.

What I can talk to you about is WIA notification. No matter where you are in the deployment, call your rear-d command and contact the down range commander and/or first sergeant about this right now. There are no hard and fast rules for this in the Army, and I don't think it would be uneducated of me to say that there probably aren't for any branch. It's really a command decision. Aaron being EOD meant that our small company didn't have a rear-d, but the at-home battalion company managed these things- an entirely separate company full of people I didn't know. This is not uncommon. Those people could not have done a worse job with my notification if they had tried, but I did receive something a lot of families don't get: a knock. While the person notifying me lied through his teeth about the severity of Aaron's injuries, and his commander told our entire FRG email list about the amputations before I ever found out, at least there was a face in front of me. Larger Army companies regularly do not do this, for whatever jacked-up inhumane reason. My neighbor got the news about her husband when a chaplain down range called her to let her know he had just prayed over her wounded soldier, and while her soldier had all of his limbs he did not know what was wrong with him. I really, truly wish I was joking when I say it took four hours after that for the rear-d command to finally tell her he was paralyzed. That said, your soldier might be the one to tell you of his injuries. If he needs surgery but it isn't life-threatening, you might not hear from him until afterwards. This is the best case scenario, and again a command decision on how long to wait if the wounded is capable of talking. Are we detecting a theme here yet? Command decision. Talk about it.

Regardless of how it's done, an official report must be released before anything can filter in from down range if your soldier isn't conscious and can't tell you, and especially if his wounds are life-threatening. This can be quick or it can take all day. It makes me positively sick to think that about the fact that Aaron's report was delayed because his mortality was in question when he entered surgery. This is a cold, hard fact.  Soldiers pass in surgery, or even during the flight to the Landstuhl hospital. This is a "big Army" issue and while it should be a little bit more refined at this point (ya think?!), we all know not to have that expectation.

Here's where it get tricky: who needs to be on-call when it happens, which means another spouse might have to/need to know shortly before you're notified. Should an FRG leader be privy to this information prior to notification? That entirely depends and again, it's a command decision. Wether it's a phone call or a knock, make sure that a chaplain and a care team can be at your house within minutes. Talk about this with your battle buddies and neighbors. I happened to be incredibly close with our FRG leader, and all I needed to say to her was, "I need you here now." She was there all day, and my very best friends filtered in not long afterwards. A mother with two kids, a pregnant woman, a working friend, and my neighbor all made sure I wasn't alone. Do not be alone. Have someone stay with you that night if family can't arrive sooner. Talk about this in depth with the important people. Talk to your spouse and any siblings on how to notify the family. I did not receive a lot of help from my notifier, nor did I know which parent to call first. I called Aaron's little brother, who conferenced called their father. I regret to this day having to tell him so hurriedly. "Adam, Aaron was hurt pretty badly and I don't know which of your parents to call first." That sucked and don't let it happen to you.

If things have gone relatively humanely at this point, the big Army is going to start blowing up your phone not long afterwards. Someone might read you the doctors' notes on your soldier's care and/or immediate surgery. This is hard, but at least it is facts and not speculation. I still stand by the fact that had I received a phone call instead of a knock I at least would have been told Aaron had lost his legs instead of some mamby-pamby bullshit about injury and not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I will never forgive my notifier for what he did to me, Aaron's family, and mine.

Make sure the rear-d company can be there for you. If you need someone to get your family from the airport, ask for it. Send out an urgent message about pet care. The complete asshat who notified me also told me he "wasn't allowed" to help me, so my friends helped me collect my family from the airport- over an hour away, at nearly midnight. (I later did receive a lot of help in cleaning and closing up my apartment, along with turning in a lot of Aaron's borrowed and left-behind issued gear so we wouldn't get billed. This however was not because of the aforementioned asshat, but other command and good soldiers. So there is that and I am not ungrateful for it).

Find out your branch's policy on family traveling to Germany. The Army, from what I know, flies family over when the soldier has been bumped twice from transfer to the States, or it is known as fact that he need serious care in Germany for some indeterminate amount of time. I was told the worst thing imaginable: I would only go to Germany if Aaron wasn't going to make it. That was and is not true and it took about a dozen phone calls to calm me down after I received word that I would probably go to Germany. Big-Army transportation will not do shit to help you until it's official, so don't expect it. It can happen very fast and change in an instant. The State department will help you get a passport if you need it, but try to have this ready beforehand. Also, each Army soldier gets three family members. If it isn't the given spouse and two parents, talk about who goes. Be realistic- who can go, and who is going to be the most help. It might mean hurting feelings in the heat of the disaster going on and while that must be taken into consideration, do not be afraid to do what's best for you and your spouse. Talk about this with your spouse and his family, for the love of God and Jesus.

If your command is resistant to at least attempting to set a policy for this, keep pushing. Go higher if you have to. You, as a spouse, do not have a command and can call whomever you need to, but again- start from the bottom up. The bottom being, of course, the company commander and rear-d. Do not fry your soldier's reputation with the current company and don't be belligerent, but get this worked out by any reasonable means necessary. It is not a joke, and it can happen to your company. It most likely will happen to someone your husband works with. We are/were very lucky that our actual company command is run by compassionate folks who took every notification seriously and did what they could do from Afghanistan to make sure things were right. It is really a snag in the system that so much is left up to people whom you might not know at all. I know if by time-travel magic that anyone from our company could have been there, they would have.

It is hard to find a specific number, but the rough estimate of current war wounded is around 46,000. The number of Vietnam dead is 58,195. Soldiers are surviving wounds that would have killed them in the past. After over a decade of our current situations, one would think these issues could have been worked out by now. Unfortunately, it isn't the case and there is still a huge human factor in all of this. Some people might think I'm too unforgiving about my notification, but until you've been in my shoes don't judge me. Be reasonable, though- if you don't live near the duty station or are in a Guard/Reserve unit, things are obviously going to go a little differently but you still deserve a compassionate notification with the correct information.

Here's a few words to live by on sharing information about someone else's injured soldier: just wait. Just effing wait, okay? This goes for soldiers and spouses. Don't blow up her phone if you aren't close, don't post to facebook. I had people call me who I knew for a fact didn't like me. They just should have written me a nice email. Just give it a few days. I have posted about others' injuries, but I waited and made sure the family had shared it publicly first. Just because official notification has been made doesn't mean it's time to start tagging a soldier in your Facebook post. I call this "grief mongering" or "grief leaching". "Oh, look at me, I'm posting a prayer for the wounded! I'm calling him a hero. I'm such a good person!" No, you're just an asshole with nothing better to do with your time. Get a hobby. (But do at least write, eventually. It's incredibly rude not to, unless you and the spouse just abhor each other and you both know it).

This is truly the second worst nightmare of any soldier's family, especially when the wounds are eternally life changing. Do what you can to protect yourself from further trauma. Print this out and give it to command. Link it up. Paraphrase me, I don't care. Do not screw around about this. Had I actually found out by email (or text), I would have needed immediate medical care. It is only by the grace of God I did not look at that FRG email when I had the chance. Please do what you can so in case something horrible happens, you get what you deserve.

Next up: fertility and deployment: worth the debt to secure your future attempt at a family.

Lovingly your forced-to-do-it but doing-it-good local,


  1. I've tweeted and +1ed this & encourage everyone else to share. Important stuff here.

  2. I don't blog anymore, but I do read. You are right--somehow, this system is broken. As a rear-d commander my husband made over 100 injury notifications in the last year. The minute he received information, he was in the office doing his job. Even so, I was shocked by the number of families who had already found out about the injury some other way. Sometimes it would take half a day or more for "official" word to come through, and my husband couldn't do a damn thing until it did. He was also on the receiving end of many complaints and lots of verbal abuse from families who were (very understandably) upset by the infrequent updates on their loved ones' conditions. They thought they weren't being supported, and didn't understand amidst all the stress that rear-d can only disseminate the information it receives. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on any of this. But it seems to me that in such a "connected" age, there must be a better way. I think your implication that Big Army's priority is to cover its own butt is right on the money.

  3. ...and granted, I understand why Big Army needs to cover its butt. Ten years ago, at the beginning of the wars, I imagine this system "worked" a lot better. But much has changed in the field of communication in that decade, and I think the military is going to have to evolve so the info it disseminates remains timely and accurate (and also compassionate!)in a world with facebook, texting, emails, and international calls. And on another note, thank you for continuing to share your experiences and advice with us.