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Army spouses warned of phony death notices

By: CARY LEIDER VOGRIN THE GAZETTE
April 15, 2005
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Maj. Mark Solomon stood before spouses of deployed Fort Carson soldiers Thursday morning and brought up a subject no one likes to talk about but everyone needs to know about.
After recent hoaxes on and off post, Solomon wanted soldiers’ families briefed on the Army’s by-the-book death notification procedure. “I hope and I pray we do not have to do any of these,” said Solomon, the rear detachment commander for the 5,200-soldier 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which deployed to Iraq last month. In the past three weeks, at least five hoaxes have occurred — four off-post and one at Fort Carson, post spokeswoman Kim Tisor said. In the instance on post, three people — all in different uniforms — posed as notification officers and told a woman her husband had died. “The family member who answered the door knew that something was very wrong,” So- lomon said. When the family member requested identification, the three fled, he said. They were driving a black sport utility vehicle, Tisor said. In official circumstances, families are told such news by two uniformed soldiers — one typically a chaplain — who show up in a government vehicle. For many families at Fort Carson these days, Solomon is the primary link to such information, pleasant or not. On Thursday, inside McMahon Auditorium on post, he held two “town hall” meetings to convey facts — and debunk fiction — related to the deployment. A third meeting was planned for this morning. “I wanted to inform families of what’s going on in the regiment so there would be less speculation and less uncertainty, which of course feeds into anxiety,” Solomon said. Christine Hebert, a new Army wife who moved here just weeks before the 3rd ACR deployed, was glad for all the information. “This is my husband’s first deployment,” she said. “I don’t know anybody here. I have no idea what to expect, and rumors go around. “It was a great opportunity to find out what was going on,” she said. “I’m the type that wants to know as much information as I can.” Hebert wasn’t at all upset by the casualty notification discussion. “I’m sure some other people were like, ‘God, I wish he wouldn’t talk about that,’ but for me, I’d rather know what to expect and what to look for in case somebody shows up at my house.” The death notification procedure was just one of many topics on Solomon’s agenda. “I’ll address one of the rumors right up front,” he said after using a red laser pen to highlight the regiment’s location south of Baghdad, in the cities of Salman Pak and Mahmudiyah. Yes, the regiment probably will move at some point, he said. No, R&R leave hasn’t started yet, and it’s unknown when it will start. And although rumors are flying that the deployment will last 18 months, it’s now set for a year. “We’re about one month into this thing. Right now, I’m here to tell you it’s 365 days. The regiment just got there,” he said. Solomon said he understands that news reports of attacks in Iraq may cause great anxiety for worried family members. “I would ask you to turn the page and don’t read the article. We’re going to be there for the next 11 months,” he said. “I guess what I would tell us is if your anxiety level goes through the roof when you hear about an IED (improvised explosive device), you’re going to have a tough time the next 11 months. “We have to get used to those feelings, because they’re not going to go away. We’re not going to feel at ease until our loved ones are back. That’s normal.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0236 or cary@gazette.com
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