By Dave Campbell, Fort Campbell CourierJuly 2, 2010
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (July 1, 2010) - Survivor Outreach Services publicly extended a hand to Families of the fallen in a press briefing at 101st Airborne Division Headquarters, Friday, answering media inquiries into recent spikes in Soldier casualties in Afghanistan.
"The Army has always said that they will never leave a Soldier behind," said SOS Support Coordinator Heather Vozzelli. "We're here to bring that same commitment to Families."
But casualties will continue, said Rear Detachment Commander, Lt. Col. Joel Hamby, Divisional Provisional Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. Although he believes they will begin to decline as the year progresses.
His message to Families spoke a reminder of the help that Families have available to them at Fort Campbell.
"It's hard, but we have a tremendous support network," Hamby said. "And we take care of our own."
Vozzelli explained that the Army has survivor outreach programs available across the world, made possible by Army Community Services.
As part of their own efforts, Vozzelli said SOS offers classes, events and other means to help survivors in a safe and secure setting, in any way they are able.
"We make sure we treat the Families with respect," she said. "I'm a proud Army wife and when we signed up for this, we knew the risks and how hard it would be to hear [that news]."
Many survivors find need of working their way through different financial concerns as well, she said.
"We provide long-term care for survivors as long as they desire," Vozzelli said. "And we'll never forget our Families who have lost a Soldier."
Vozzelli said the multi-faceted program began as an outreach to post-9/11 survivors, but has since served as a connection point to help Families find the care and assistance they need.
"We don't cut checks, but we can link them up with the Army Emergency Relief fund," she said. "We give Families the opportunity to find jobs and benefits. Just having that network and knowing they're not alone is the most important thing."
Hamby explained that his own discussions with the command group explore different options available for assistance.
Hamby emphasized the many support systems already in place to help when a Family loses a Soldier.
Casualty Assistance Officers are the first people a survivor interacts with when first hearing news that their Soldier died, and Vozzelli said CAOs maintain their assistance with the Family as long as needed.
At that point, SOS staff steps in to pick up where the CAO exits the picture.
Vozzelli said shock is the most common emotion survivors experience when they first hear the news that their Soldier has died, but that SOS assistance has been a relief to many of them in that time.
"Most are generally grateful once they realize the services we offer," she said. "And we make sure everyone is aware of counseling for the grief they may still be experiencing."
The goal is for SOS to assist surviving Family members to the point that they are confident they will make it through the tragedy.
The commitment to this job is "very rewarding," she adds. "We go home knowing we've helped ... so we skip lunches, stay late ... do whatever to help."
Assistance won't look the same for everyone. Vozzelli said SOS customizes everything they do to the needs of each individual survivor, she said.
Spouses with children may have different needs than the newlywed couple, she adds.
No matter the Soldier's cause of death, whether it was non-combat or combat-related, SOS is ready to help the survivor find the help they need.
Fort Campbell's casualties began again with the Afghan surge in January, Hamby said and since March 1, the 101st has lost 25 of its own Soldiers in operations combat and non-combat related.
Two hundred Soldiers have sustained wounds ranging from serious to slight, he added.
Hamby fielded the initial range of questions that probed for reasons and explanations attached to the rising number in Soldiers dying.
As the surge continues to take the form of a staggered deployment throughout the rest of the year, Hamby said his optimism would like to say that casualties would drop off as the summer continues.
But with the 101st committing a large number of troops against the Taliban, Hamby says with that risk, casualties will result and accidents will happen.
"The enemy knows we're surging," Hamby said. "Because [they] know, they're going to come after us ... Any time young men are put in harm's way, the enemy gets a vote."
In the wake of recent casualties, Hamby said preparation doesn't make it easier to give Families bad news.
"You can train a lot for combat, but no one really trains you enough to tell the Family of one of your Soldiers, they were wounded or killed," Hamby said. "It's not easy - that task."
Hamby did explain that the division expends a lot of time, effort and compassion in taking care of our Soldiers, mentioning SOS as one of the main ways to reach out to the loved ones of a fallen Soldier if they are killed in action.
"Try to remember that what they did is something most Americans couldn't do," he said. "They gave that last measure of devotion and we need to honor them in that."