When War Knocks on the Front Door

"From being a hospital chaplain, I know that everybody grieves differently. There is no correct way of grieving. Some people are very reserved and private with their grief and some are on the floor bawling. And all of that is very normal," said Maj. Brian Bohlman, a chaplain at the McEntire Joint National Guard Base, located just outside of Columbia, S.C.

During his years of service in the Air National Guard, Bohlman has found himself deployed to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he has leaned over the bedside of wounded and dying soldiers, holding their hands and praying for them, as well as been part of a casualty notification team.

"The chaplain is often the most experienced officer who is part of the notification team. He or she has been in hospitals, has been around grieving and loss and has seen death," said Bohlman of his duty on the notification team.

When asked how he deals with the burden of bracing himself to deliver such traumatic news to unsuspecting families, the chaplain gives a three part answer.

"I look at it from a spiritual perspective. I am there to nurture the living, care for casualties and honor the dead," said Bohlman.

Once the casualty notification team has made its visit, a casualty assistance officer will follow up with the family the next day.

The family's assistance officer will almost always be a different person than the notification officer so that the family does not flashback to the moment when they learned of their loved one's death every time they see the assistance officer, according to Dittamo.

Over the next five months following the service member's death that it takes to sort out paperwork and process insurance forms, the assistance officer will be the consistent point of contact for the deceased service member's family. Not only is the officer there to see the body of the loved one home, but he or she will also be there to sit down with the family to make funeral arrangements and help the family cope with their loss in any way possible.

"As a casualty assistance officer, some relationships with the families last a long time and some don't," said Dittamo.

In his 22-year Army career, however, Dittamo has only been assigned to one family as a casualty notification officer.

This is typical, he said. Because an officer's first duty as a casualty assistance officer is the family, it supersedes all other responsibilities and may last for an indefinite amount of time.

Also, the casualty assistance officer is generally not below the rank of major simply because an officer of that rank will have more life experience, maturity and will have seen more than a 2nd lieutenant will have.

A knock on the door with officers and a chaplain waiting outside does not always mean death, however. The protocols and procedures for notifying the families of service members who have been wounded in action apply the same to the families of the service members who have been killed in action.

That is why when Allison Cason, whose husband's story is told in Raddatz's book, saw the uniform clad figures on the other side of her parent's frosted glass door, she initially told herself that her husband was simply badly injured, but not dead. Unfortunately for Cason, that was not the case, but for many families it is.

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