How does the US Army notify families of a tragedy?

Can a Doper out there walk me through a typical notification of a combat death? My daughter is an army wife and she is living with us while her husband is serving in Afghanistan. We are not near son-in-law’s home post of Fort Carson.

The news is reporting that his division has suffered eight fatalities in combat action. My daughter is beside herself with worry. My gut reaction is that the action took place more than 48 hours ago. If there were bad news, the army would already be on our doorstep.

So, what steps does the army typically take? How long does it take?

From the US Army Casualty Notification Guide:

Correct. The Armed Servies take casualty notification VERY seriously. Only in extremely rare circumstances would you have not been notified by now if your son-in-law were amongst the casualties.

You should still smack him upside the head, if he doesn’t get word to y’all about his status at the very first possible opportunity, consistent with OPSEC.

(ex) Deputy Casualty Assistance Coordinator (NAVSTA Philly, '83-'85)

A Doper posted a link to this article some months back. (Same article, different source)

Death Notification: A Dreaded Duty.

Thank you all for the helpful responses.

By the way, I just received a text message from my daughter. She has been in contact with her husband and he is fine.

Good. :cool: Thanks for letting us know!

During WWII notification was done be means of a telegram (“The Secretary of War/Navy regrets to inform you…”). Usually the most senior person in the telegraph office (instead of the teenage boy that delivered most stuff) would deliver it person. This was a horrible, impersonal, way of doing this and was abolished after the war.

At the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, there are a series of telegraphs that a mother received.

The first is “we regret to inform you that [her son] has been declared missing in action.”

The next “we regret to inform you that [her son] is presumed dead.”

Several months later, she receives “we are pleased to inform you that [her son] has been found alive in a POW camp”
I can never figure out which is more horrible and impersonal; the death notices, or the alive notice?! Can you imagine the emotions? The first time I read them, I cried.

Make sure that she(or any spouse of a deployed person) has her husband update his next of kin records to show her address with you. The Army does not magically know where everyone lives. Before deploying he should have filled out a form with NOK address/contact info. If she decided to come stay with you after he left they may have the old address on file.


Don’t do that. Often, it’s against policy to mention casualties to loved ones. It spreads panic at home when one mom calls another mom who calls another…

When someone in our brigade died, we went to communications black-out. You weren’t allowed to email or call home for 24 hours. That stopped being the policy, then started again, then stopped again. Guess they couldn’t make up their minds about it.

My parents remember how they’d clip off a corner of the envelope that held the telegram if it was bad news, so the recipient could prepare.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement on the old method, where a casualty list would be posted on a kiosk. Eventually you’d get a polite letter from his commanding officer.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning series on how the Marines handle it:

This movie has also had excellent reviews:

Your Brigade needs a good smacking, too. Also, you should read for content: I didn’t say discuss casualties; I said give word of his status consistent with OPSEC.

Going the other way, they don’t do so good. When My daughter died, the Red Cross was the leader in letting my Son in Germany know and got him started back home.

I am sorry for your loss. I assume you mean that your daughter was not in the service, but your son was. I have occasionally wondered how to handle that, if there were an emergency at home (such as the untimely demise of my daughter), how I would get word to him. I don’t know who I am supposed to call.

Regarding my son-in-law’s action; his division did take casualties in a recent coordinated attack on an FOB. However, the casualties did not occur at the FOB where he is staying. He has seen an increase in his activity however.

If there is a death in the family and the service member needs to be notified, you call the local Red Cross chapter. They will need the name of the deceased and what funeral home they are at. (The Red Cross has to verify with the funeral home that the person is dead) Then they will want the name and rank of the service member and which branch of the service they are in and other identifying information. And they will want to know if you want the person to come home or call. The Red Cross then notifies the appropriate service branch and the information goes down the chain of command to the persons unit. (My son was notified of his grandmother’s death by his ship commander).

It was still that way into the Viet Nam war. Although the movie used quite a bit of poetic license, what was depicted in We Were Soldiers was real. Hal Moore’s wife, Julia Moore, was instrumental in changing the Army’s policy after the Ia Drang Campaign (along with the wife of the 1st Cav Division commander, I believe)

In reality it is very easy to contact family members directly, even in war zones. I rarely went a day in Iraq without getting at least an email. Red Cross verification is still needed to get the ball rolling on emergency leaves.

Giving word of his status is the same as discussing casualties. Lets say a unit takes casualties. PVT Snuffy sends an email saying he is OK to his family. PVT Pyle sends an email too. PVT Jones doesn’t but is fine. It will take about 15 minutes for the rumors to fly through the family readiness group. PVT Jones family is convinced he is dead because they didn’t get the email that PVT Snuffy’s family did. Bad things happen when the rumors fly. It is better for it to go through channels.

Maybe, but we were in a World War! The soldiers were needed overseas, in the combat zones. Leaving enough at home all over the states so they could deliver the message in person would not have been a smart idea. A shortage of troops in those combat zones might have meant even more death notices to be delivered!