fallen troops

Are you there, God? Just checking. We have troubles from the Afghanistan war. It’s hard to read about, much less comprehend what just happened.

If you are an immediate family member of a soldier or sailor who dies in combat, war knocks at your door. When the two military officers and chaplain in full dress uniform come to your house and ring the doorbell, that is the moment your life changes. War enters your home. And the grief begins.

Our country has lost too many men and women who stood for our flag and stood up to our enemies. One of the most important military duties is to provide death notification to the deceased’s next of kin. The goal is that the family is notified within eight hours of the casualty incident. Upon arrival at the home of the next of kin, the notification officer will ask for permission to enter. 

“I am an American fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” Article I of the code of conduct for members of the armed forces of the United States.

The solemn duty to inform loved ones that their son, daughter, wife or husband is not returning home is heart-wrenching and handled with the utmost respect and dignity. Once in front of the next of kin, an officer will articulate, the following: “The commandant of the Marines Corps (or other service branch) has entrusted me to express his deep regret that your son (or daughter) was killed in action in (place of incident) on (date and time). The commandant extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in your loss.”

The notification team must be prepared for any type of response. When my friend’s son was killed in Iraq, she opened her door, screamed at the officers standing in front of her and slammed the door in their faces. They stood for several hours in her courtyard until she was able to collect herself and let them inside. 

The sorrow that our child, parent or spouse died in some faraway place, in a violent manner, is simply too much to grasp. Did he or she die instantly? When will I receive the remains? How did this happen? Who did this? Was there suffering? The questions come fast and furious, while the answers may lag far behind. The officers may stay with the next of kin, until other family members can arrive. They do not like to leave the grieving person alone. 

More than 2,400 Americans died in Afghanistan. Many of the last 13 soldiers were not even born when the war started. Over 20,000 soldiers were seriously wounded in the war. Estimates suggest almost $1 trillion was spent on this “conflict.” Let the finger pointing begin; there is plenty of blame to go around and, perhaps, there will be lessons learned. A war has ended; the pain endures. Now, we honor the fallen and support their families. Their sacrifices were not in vain. Those who died did so on the altar of democracy, in service of our country. God bless them eternally.