A spouse in my husband’s previous unit was shopping in the commissary like any other day when a fellow spouse approached her and told her how sorry she was for her loss. She had no idea that a CNO (Casualty Notification Officer) and a Chaplain was trying to locate her – trying to find her to tell her that her husband had been killed in action.
But strangers knew. People she had barely spoken to. People who knew people who knew people who knew people she knew.
I cannot imagine what that must have felt like. To find out in the middle of a public place, surrounded by strangers, by someone who was almost a stranger that your husband was not coming home. No part of my heart can even begin to comprehend what that feels like. I don’t think that ever goes away.
Technology, without question, has vastly improved how we are able to communicate through a deployment. Skype means more to me than I can explain. When my boys got to see their Daddy for the first time in months thanks to that incredible invention … there are no words. Things are far more “instant” than they have ever been during wartime. We can almost immediately get a response from our soldier when we have a question (well, sometimes). We can hear their voices rather than having to imagine them while reading a letter. So many soldiers have cellphones in the sandbox or BBM or FB chat on phones. Yes, that can be an incredible thing.
But when such technology impedes on the notification process, it becomes a great enemy. There can be multiple placements of blame. Part lies on the soldiers who ignore the rules of a blackout, who want to call their spouses to let them know what is going on. And to call and say, “I am okay” is one thing. I get that. Sometimes that is all we want to hear when all of a sudden NO ONE is hearing anything. But to call to say who fell, to let anyone else know before the spouse can know … that doesn’t sit well with me.
Much of it falls on the spouse who – whether wrongfully or not – was informed before the official notification was made. There are times that we know things that are never meant to be shared. There is a trust in a military marriage that MUST be honored. The soldier killed may have been your soldier’s best buddy. He may NEED to tell you. That is not for you to share with any other spouse, any other friend, because once you share it you cannot take it back, you cannot stop someone else from telling someone who tells someone who tells someone.
There is training that I encourage spouses to take called “Care Team”. I don’t just encourage spouses to take it to become parts of these teams (even though I think it may be the greatest service any of us could ever give) but because of how well it explains the notification process. I know it isn’t something we want to think about. I know it isn’t anything that any of us want to spend a designated amount of time discussing but I firmly believe that understanding the process is important – both for your sanity and for your military knowledge.
My husband has been trained as a CNO and as a CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer). The weeks of training for these jobs were – without question – the most emotional days of his career. It is because of this job that I became so familiar with the process. I know the procedure and protocols. I know the timelines and the way they find the families. I know that even though every person involved in a Casualty Notification process moves as quickly as possible to reach that family, the fastest soldiers cannot beat the “instant” speed of social media at times.
So please take this as a plea from a fellow spouse – from the spouse of a combat soldier who has been to more memorials than I can say – if you ever “know” before the person who should always know first, do nothing but say a prayer for that family. Do nothing but pray for the comrades who were with him. Do nothing but silently pray for that widow, that mother, that father, that child. Do NOTHING else. Do not post on Facebook that “Sgt __________ will be greatly missed.” Do not text the spouse that you are sorry for her loss. Do not call asking what you can do. Do not write on the fallen soldier’s wall that you cannot believe it was him. Do not, do not, do not, for a moment, put a spouse through finding out through Facebook, or a text message, or a commissary run-in.
You may think it doesn’t happen. You may think “Who would do that?!” but it happens more and more and more. More than I can stomach, more than you might believe.
When a soldier falls, their family deserves to know first.
If for any reason you know before you have received the phone call or notice of who fell, please respect the process, respect the family, respect the soldier by remaining silent, offering prayer, and being there if called upon.
We owe that to our Gold-Stars. We owe them more than I can say.