Casualty Operations: The Glass Ball
Many tasks and responsibilities of the rear detachment (Rear D) are important, but not zero-tolerance tasks. Casualty operations are the exception. If something is dropped within the area of casualty operations, then it breaks just like a glass ball. One can never change the impact of failure within the area of casualty operations.
Soldiers and their Families must know the unit will care for them in any casualty event. Family readiness is significantly impacted by the actions of the unit in response to casualty events, whether positive or negative. In addition, a key to family readiness is the ability of the unit to reintegrate returning Soldiers and their Families, especially the wounded-in-action (WIA) returnees.
Keys to Success
- Develop detailed casualty notification battle drills.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
- Rehearse drills with all senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) within the unit and with Family Readiness Group (FRG) leaders.
- Conduct table-top rehearsals. Conducting an actual dress rehearsal can upset family members.
- Conduct monthly memorial rehearsals.
- Include rehearsals in the training schedule; higher commanders should validate subordinate unit drills.
- Identify key roles and update each month:
- Inspect uniforms.
- Rehearse Honor Detail (firing squad) weekly.
- Incorporate the FRG into battle drills.
- Utilize a Family Care Team (FCT) concept to provide support to local Families in the event of a Soldier killed in action (KIA).
- Standardize memorial ceremonies.
- Understand the difference between a memorial ceremony and a memorial service. The deploying commander will determine the type to use. But remember, what the family wants is what they get.
- Develop a close relationship with the local Casualty Assistance Command (CAC). Conduct casualty assistance officer (CAO) and casualty notification officer (CNO) training early.
- If feasible, use a sponsor program for reintegrating returning Soldiers.
- Use Web sites to access the latest casualty information to assist Soldiers and Families.
- Leverage unit alumni-type associations (e.g., Society of the Big Red One) and local community support organizations.
- Control information regarding casualties:
- Ensure the ACS desk follows procedures during casualty drills.
- Inform higher headquarters and the Casualty Affairs office once notified of a casualty.
- Maintain operations security within the unit until notification is complete. Ensure that medical and dental clinics, FRG leaders, and the FRG advisor understand their roles in information control.
- Treat every casualty the same. Conduct after-action reviews after each event and document the findings to improve the unit’s performance.
- Once notifications are complete, develop a basic message for use by the ACS desk and FRG leaders.
- Brief Soldiers:
- If notifications are not complete, brief Soldiers on the status and explain how critical it is to not discuss the event prior to official notification.
- Families will look to get information from Rear D personnel.
- Treat Soldiers as part of the solution.
The following is a list of important acronyms to know and understand in casualty operations:
DNBI: Disease and non-battle injury. Includes any and all medical reasons to evacuate a Soldier.
WIA: Wounded in action.
DUSTWUN: Duty status-whereabouts unknown. A transitory casualty status, applicable only to military personnel; used when the responsible commander suspects the member may be a casualty whose absence is involuntary, but does not feel sufficient evidence currently exists to make a definite determination of missing or deceased.
VSI: Very seriously ill or injured. The casualty status of a person whose illness or injury is classified by medical authorities to be of such severity that life is imminently endangered.
SPECAT: Special category. Casualty involving loss of eyesight or amputation.
SI: Seriously ill or injured. Casualty status of a person whose illness or injury is classified by medical authorities to be of such severity that there is cause for immediate concern, but there is no imminent danger to life.
NSI: Not seriously ill or injured. The casualty status of a person whose illness or injury may or may not require hospitalization; medical authority does not classify as VSI, SI, or III; and the person can communicate with the next of kin.
III: Incapacitating illness or injury. The casualty status of a person (a) whose illness or injury requires hospitalization, but medical authority does not classify as very seriously ill or injured; or (b) seriously ill or injured and the illness or injury makes the person physically or mentally unable to communicate with the next of kin.
DCIPS: Defense Casualty Information Processing System. System of processing casualty messages and official messages.
No two casualty notifications will happen the same way:
- Address handling of casualty events. Discuss in depth with chain of command prior to deployment.
- Concerns during casualty notification:
- Divorce. Slows the notification process.
- Both parents must be located and notified.
- Address of one parent may not be current or is unknown.
- All children must be informed if former spouse is no longer PNOK.
- ACS Desk:
- Once notification is complete, ensure personnel control information and adhere to the Public Affairs Office prepared release.
- Ensure personnel avoid speculation.
- Be aware: Family may contact the media before official DOD news release is posted
- Media representatives may call the ACS desk or unit looking for information. Refer all media calls to Public Affairs Office..
- Morale phones and computers (forward and rear). Verify that communications are blacked out until notification is complete, including all subordinate unit and attachment locations.
- Cell phones. The primary way Families receive unofficial notification. Do not allow the use of cell phones.
- Kuwait CAC:
- DCIPS messages are sometimes inaccurate; when possible, verify with forward command.
- Secondary DCIPS messages contain changes to the original message, which can include how the Soldier was wounded or killed. The CNO must then inform the PNOK with updated information.
- Information control:
- Within the unit
- Organizations outside the unit (medical and dental clinics)
- FRG receives third-source information
- Department of the Army Casualty Affairs. (Note: Notify this office to report breakdowns in the proper notification process.)
Casualty Notification Battle Drills
Drills will vary slightly with each post and unit. Meet with the local CAC to determine post procedures.
- Drill #1. WIA/DNBI (VSI and SPECAT): Phone call required, but some commands mandate a Soldier in Army combat uniform (ACU) visit following the phone call.
- Soldier in ACU will not be confused with a KIA notification.
- Visit helps the family by addressing the severity of the injuries and what to expect in the near future, to include possible travel to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical Center.
- Drill #2. WIA/DNBI (SI and NSI): Phone call is the required method.
- Drill #3. KIA: Recommended breakdown of casualty teams is listed in the following battle drill.
KIA casualty teams (Drill #3)
- Notification team: CNO and chaplain
- Support team: Brigade chaplain, RDC, and FRG advisor offer support until arrival of FCT or comfort person.
- FCT: Based on the PNOK’s desire, the team forms at battalion headquarters and waits for a call from the FRG advisor. Team comes to house if requested.
- CAO: Contacts PNOK following support team.
Family Care Teams (FCT)
Teams of three volunteers are trained to provide support to Families in the case of a KIA. Support is provided only if PNOK desires assistance.
- Provides emotional support.
- Listens and responds to family’s needs:
- Answers door/phones. Provides a protective barrier when needed.
- Assists with the children.
- Contacts friends.
- Provides or coordinates dinner meal for day of notification.
- Provides contact card with phone numbers of FCT members to spouse for additional assistance.
- Provides feedback to commander on needs/issues.
- Coordinates directly with company FRG leaders.
Note: See Appendix A-III for additional information.
KIA Tasks (Drill #3)
- Unit responsibilities:
- Secure Soldier readiness packet.
- Secure medical/dental records and send to CAC once notification is complete. Note blood type (memorial dog tags).
- Copy 201 file for biographical information once notification is complete.
- Summary Court Officer: From brigade or unit; XO is unit POC and schedule keeper. Required both forward and rear:
- May inventory personal effects
- Collects debts and accepts claims from creditors
- Commander calls CAO, battalion tactical operations center, brigade commander, and brigade RDC.
- Commander provides DCIPS message to ACS NCO in charge (NCOIC) along with PAO press release; morale phones reopened.
- FRG leaders notified by the battalion FRG advisor.
- Memorial date set.
- Casualty debrief with chaplain for affected company FRG (if requested).
- Company formation to brief Soldiers.
- Keep all communications down until all notifications are complete.
- Communications with cross-attached Rear Ds.
- Body escort from Dover AFB to funeral location (within 2-4 days of DCIPS message):
- Reviews briefing book.
- Reports to CAO.
- Conducts inspections of Class A uniform.
- Secures two unit crests and two unit patches.
- Is authorized to remain through funeral.
- Verifies awards.
Missing in Action/Captured (Drill #4)
Treat as KIA in regards to support and planned employment of an FCT:
- Just as traumatic, with no immediate closure.
- Do not overlook this event for planning purposes.
Memorials (Drill #5)
The memorial is the unit’s opportunity to remember its fallen comrade. The family's opportunity is the funeral. Always encourage the Families to attend the memorial ceremonies when possible and to provide special music or pictures.
Develop a standardized memorial rock drill for use the day prior to the memorial. It is critical to standardize the unit’s memorial ceremonies in order to prevent the perception of privileges due to rank. Every Soldier, no matter the rank, deserves an appropriate memorial. Perceived differences can be divisive for the Families of lower-enlisted Soldiers.
The priority for returning WIA Soldiers is to focus on healing and spending time with their Families. Convey that message to both the Soldier and his family. Each case is different, but also keep in mind that sometimes getting the Soldier back to work is also good therapy.
The support battle drill below works for both single and married Soldiers. The key is to gain positive control on all returning Soldiers, so they are effectively once again embraced by their unit.
Local Support (WIA and DNBI) (Drill #6)
- Commander is notified by patient movement specialist of returning Soldier.
- Commander notifies Personnel and Administrative Center (PAC) NCO of return and files DA Form 4187, Personnel Action, to move the Soldier from hospitalized to present for duty or applicable status.
- PAC NCO or first sergeant notifies sponsor based on DA Form 6, Duty Roster.
- Sponsor determines if family is local and available and notifies them of Soldier’s return.
- Sponsor coordinates with local support agency and picks up barracks key from S4 for unmarried Soldier.
- Sponsor meets unmarried Soldier at hospital and escorts Soldier to sign for barracks.
- FRG leader is notified by commander.
- Medical returnees initially assigned to deployable platoon until status is determined.
- Platoon sergeant tracks completion of returnee tasks.
- Sponsor coordinates with spouse, support agency, and FRG leader for Soldier/family support:
- Welcome basket
- Welcome signs
- House or room cleaning
- Room setup
- Up to seven days of dinner meals (two provided by FRG)
There are numerous organizations to help support WIA Soldiers and their Families. The Army Wounded Warrior Program is one way to maintain visibility on programs. Recommend tasking a competent NCO to research and track programs in conjunction with the local Army hospital.
The commander should meet the Soldiers as they return. Brief them on expectations and priorities. The sponsor is their link to the unit and the completion of required tasks.
Make a plan to have several barracks rooms ready to receive returnees. The FRG can assist in preparing the rooms with making beds, food, and welcome home signs. The sponsor is a critical link to receiving the Soldier and bringing him back into the unit.
Upon notification of a pending return, brief the spouse on who will be the sponsor and the process once the Soldier arrives. The sponsor is the link between the Soldier and the spouse prior to reunification and then serves as the POC within the unit for completion of required tasks and required assistance. The FRG leader can visit within the first few days and offer to bring meals and help with other tasks:
- To prevent the spouse from waiting at the hospital for a no-show, the sponsor meets the Soldier at the hospital to verify his arrival before calling the spouse. Returnee begins medical evaluation prior to spouse's arrival.
- Recommend that the spouse not bring children to the hospital. This allows the couple to address the severity of wounds and visual appearance without the children present.