The war in Afghanistan and Iraq followed the terrorist attack on 9/11, and the death of over 3,000 civilians (History.com Staff). In response, the U.S. engaged in conflict, and the total number of lives taken stands at 7,115 – 4,800 in Iraq and 2,315 in Afghanistan (Citizen Journalist, Statistic Brain). As low as these numbers are compared to wars of the past, the effects of the losses are just as immense, and families still grieve in much the same way. Moreover, because the conflict in Afghanistan has yet to cease, the numbers continue to climb, with updates of lives lost at least every month. The most recent update to the online databases was on April 15, 2014, recording the death of Spc. Kerry M. G. Danyluk (Citizen Journalist). Along with the currency of the information, the availability of the statistics about each soldier’s death is more open to the public than ever before. There are online databases and records, giving specifics about how the soldier died, as well as what rank and branch of the military the soldier served. To further increase the reality of these deaths, pictures of the fallen soldiers are posted with their information, giving a face to a name and recognition to a soldier.
Just as with the Vietnam War, the professional methods of notifying the family of the soldier’s death continued. The soldier was first identified, and then the commissioned officers notify the Remain Behind Party (RBE) at the soldier’s base location, within 8 hours of his death (Marine Parents). The RBE has contact information from the fallen soldier, retrieved from him before his deployment. The RBE then assigns a soldier of the same military branch to notify the family of the soldier, and he is identifiable by his uniform, as well as the vehicle that he arrives in (Marine Parents). Notification must be executed in person, within 24-36 hours of the loss. The soldier is accompanied by another soldier for support and aid, and together they deliver the news; the notification can only include information that has been confirmed and must follow a script, almost identical to the script written up during the Vietnam War (Marine Parents). For soldiers WIA, a similar action must take place, but the family may be notified by telephone rather than in person. However, because of advances in technology and social media, accessibility of a soldier’s death may be complicated. Many families have reported complaints because they find the death of their loved one posted on Facebook or in the news before they are personally notified by the military (Gould, Joe). In response to this, the military has implicated regulations that the press can not be notified of the losses, or given any names, until after the families have been told. These rules are not always adhered to, and information may still leak.
The bodies of the fallen are returned home almost as quickly as the families are notified. Soldiers that have passed on are flown to Delaware, the location of the Dover Air Force Base (NFDA). There the identification of the bodies are confirmed once more, and they are embalmed, dressed, and placed in a casket (NFDA). From there they are either sent to their home town or to a national cemetery to be buried, and in some cases, families prefer to retrieve the bodies from Delaware personally.The military accommodates for the family’s decisions, covering transportation costs and providing military escorts (NFDA). The military provides accommodations for transportation for the family, making arrangements with airports and ground transportation to ensure safe and timely arrival to Delaware (Bottorf, Yolanda).
Once the bodies have been taken to the desired location for burial, the ceremony takes place. The family can request military honors for burial, but that is not always the case. The ceremony is carried out adhering to a formal structure. The casket is draped with flag, with the blue corner at the head of the casket over the left shoulder (Drill and Ceremonies). Before lowering the casket, the flag is folded twelve times, then presented to the family (Drill and Ceremonies). Out of reverence, the flag is never to touch the ground. Along with the folding of the flag, a 21-gun salute is executed, and taps is played (Drill and Ceremonies). For some soldiers, there is a 3 rifle volley over the grave upon request.
One major improvement in handling the loss of a soldier during these conflicts is the increased support from the military. As aforementioned, transportation costs were covered, and notification was made as respectable as possible. For families that chose to go to Delaware, Dover Campus is open providing free lodging and food for the family, as well as chaplain services if desired (Battorf, Yolanda). Moreover, they have assistant programs at the campus, and programs that continue at home. The most well known assistant program is the Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (TAPS) that provides coping mechanisms, group therapies, and and religious services for wives, mothers, and children of the fallen soldiers (Battorf, Yolanda). Specifically for children, they have Grief camps that provide pamphlets and mentors that teach them healthy ways to deal with the loss and fully understand what happened, as well as Memory boxes, put together by the military to provide emotional support for the children (Battorf, Yolanda).
Citizen Journalist, 2014. “US War Casualties – Afghanistan (By date)” http://citizenjournalistreview.wordpress.com/us-war-casualties-afghanistan-by-date/
Drill and Ceremonies. “Customs of Military Funerals” July 03. http://www.mdwhome.mdw.army.mil/ceremonial-support/customs-of-military-funerals
Gould, Joe. “Social media complicate Army’s death notifications” Army Times. 2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-04-28/social-media-death-notifications/54607350/1
Marine Parents “Casualty Notification Procedures During Deployment” 2003-14. http://www.marineparents.com/deployment/caco-Procedures.asp
National Funeral Directors Association. ”Military Repatriation and Funeral Protocol”. 2014. http://nfda.org/additional-tools-veterans/155-military-repatriation-and-funeral-protocol.html
“US War Death Statistic-Statistic Brain”. 2013 Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain. April, 2014.