My first thought was--'He is in Iraq, how safe can he be?' I am not sure there is any place in Iraq that is very safe. This isn't the first time guys in his unit have been hurt or killed. Why did he feel the need this time to tell me he was safe? On any given day you can look in your newspaper, it might be buried on page A-47, but you can find the names of soldiers who have been killed or wounded in Iraq in the last few days. I always look at the names and their ages, the towns they come from. I think about how someone's child has just died. Someone's world has just changed forever.
You get yourself through the news you hear about Iraq by telling yourself that your child is safe. No one has called you; no one has knocked on your door. During the Walter Reed hearings, some families said they had not been notified when their soldier was injured. It was days later when they heard, and then it was because their soldier had called them himself.
The militaries failure to notify the families undermines the peace of mind we have that our child is safe. Will they fail to notify us when out soldier is injured? In the hearings, we saw families who had come to Walter Reed to fight for their loved ones, to get them the care they needed. Your soldier has fought for his country and now it is your turn to fight for him. But how can you do that if you don't even know he is injured? Access to timely and accurate information is essential for military families to have confidence that the military will care for our love ones properly.
I have heard from a number of families who have been having trouble getting information on their loved one's death in combat. They encounter from the military the same kind of defensiveness and bureaucracy that the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed encountered. When they tire of dealing with the military, they move on to filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The requests usually get shuffled from department to department, with responses coming back that the department does not have the information and it is being forwarded somewhere else.
Losing a child is devastating; not knowing why can be unbearable.
One mother wrote to me this week:
"When a soldier is killed, the family gets all kinds of letters from all kinds of people. There's a lot from military officials and politicians. Most of the letters are form letters that are cranked out. However, almost all of them refer to our son dying as a true hero. Quite frankly, I'm tired of hearing that. My perception is that these people say that, expect us to be overcome with pride, and then expect us to go away."
While every soldier dies a hero, not all deaths are heroic, some are simply tragic. They are deaths that could have been prevented. These families are not going to go away; they need answers. Knowing why and how your child died is essential. You need to know if something could have prevented your child's death. You need to know that the military has learned from that death. Your child death did not die in vain if they learned something that might save other soldier's lives.
Complete disclosure for the family of a soldier who has been wounded or killed should not be too imposing a request.