Casualty Notification is a Sacred Duty — Not a Facebook Poke

As a military spouse, I spent my husband’s deployment terrified that I would see the black sedan drive down my street or that there would be a knock on the door and I would open it to find a chaplain and a casualty notification officer.

At least I could lay down some of the burden at night–there is a window during which notifications are made. This may seem like a trivial thing if you haven’t spent a year on edge but, trust me, it is some small solace to know you will not be woken or startled at 3am by a phone call or a knock on a door.

That is, unless, another soldier or family member takes it upon him or herself to text message you or notify you via Facebook.

What a horrible thing to do to a military family member!

While it is true that no form of notification can bring the soldier back to life, casualty notification procedures are in place for a reason.

  • The procedures ensure no false notifications. By notifying someone independently, you have disrupted the entire system and created an environment where rumors thrive.
  • You do not know how someone will react to the shock. Fainting, going on a rampage, driving off the road–these are all plausible responses to casualty notification. Let the trained professionals be there to handle it.
  • How someone finds out may affect long-term processing of the grief. People always remember where they were when they found out big news. The ceremony and respect of the official notification system, and the support that the military immediately offers, may ultimately help the family member process the grief. Maybe you do not buy this but it is NOT your call. You do NOT get to take that away from these families.

When a soldier is catastrophically injured or killed in action, his base is supposed to go on communications black-out. There should be a total lock-down of all telephone and Internet signals. And all soldiers and family members should know not to discuss casualties prior to official notification of the next of kin.

Yes, we all knew when someone had been killed in action when no one had any calls that night. Yes, the waiting was tense. However, that is a small price to pay to know that the proper respect will be paid to a fallen hero and his family. We owe our brothers and sisters in waiting at least that much.

(DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp)

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3 comments

  1. Jeff Ousley says:

    Candace,

    I couldn’t agree more. The era of social media has completely changed the military community, and not always for the better. I remember being deployed, and it was amazing how easily Facebook and programs like Skype allowed me to stay in touch with the folks back home. At the same time, we were constantly fighting OPSEC violations and inappropriate behavior on public forums. A recent example of this would the recent discharge of Sgt. Gary Stein over the comments he was making about his commander-in-chief on Facebook. Social media does not separate you from the responsibility of what you say, despite thinking to the contrary. I would hope that people read posts like this, and think just a little bit longer before trying to circumvent long-established doctrine, especially in the military community.

    Terrific post, keep up the great work!
    -Jeff Ousley

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