A caller told a military wife that her husband had been killed in action and she needed to report to an installation some miles away to file the paperwork to claim her husband's body.
When she arrived at the designated installation, no one knew what she was talking about. Upon returning home, the frustrated wife discovered her home had been robbed.
Unfortunately, scams that target military families are becoming all too familiar, and are often perpetrated by those who appear in person at the door of a military family, impersonating a casualty notification officer wearing a uniform that looks authentic.
"Many spouses don't know what the class A uniform looks like," explained Robyn Mroszczyk, with the Survivor Outreach Services on Fort Knox. "Most of the time, spouses only see their Soldiers in ACUs."
She told of one spouse who reported that she had been approached by an impersonator who informed her that her Soldier had been killed in action. An experienced military wife, she wasn't fooled because she recognized that the uniform wasn't "right," and knew that her spouse hadn't yet left the states.
Shirley Johnson, the trainer for the Casualty Assistance Center at Fort Knox, agreed that military families are often confused by the media. Movies and TV shows are notoriously inaccurate, he said.
"We must portray what right looks like," he said, because there are more deployable units at Fort Knox now, and the likelihood of scams may increase, especially if families don't know how the Army handles death notifications.
Because Mr. Johnson trained all 860 CNO Soldiers in Knox's five-state area of responsibility last year, he knows exactly what information and wording those Soldiers must use in the notification process. The CAC on post works closely with the SOS program, as well, he said.
"SOS is long term care and we are short term care," Mr. Johnson said. "We need a good hand-off from one program to the other so Army families understand that they haven't been forgotten."
In an effort to ensure that all Army families understand the notification process, Mr. Johnson shared the following steps.
* Two Soldiers in Class A uniforms will come to the next-of-kin's home.
"We try to have them match, that is, both Soldiers (wearing) greens or blues, but we won't hold up a notification due to uniform issues," said Joanne Wilson, the CAC team chief. "Two Soldiers and only two Soldiers notify the next of kin."
In addition, the rank of the CNO is determined by the rank of the fallen Soldier. If the casualty was an enlisted Soldier, then the NCO on the team must be a sergeant first class or higher. For warrant officers, the team member must be a CW2 or higher; for officers, the CNO must be a captain or higher.
* Next of kin will never be notified of a Soldier's death through a phone call. The casualty team will execute its duties face-to-face. Casualty assistance officers, however, will call to schedule their appointments.
* The notifying team is comprised of a CNO and a chaplain. Those two are the only ones who will notify a family member of a death.
* The notifying team members will express the condolences of the Secretary of the Army-and exactly that. Many imposters will use phrases they have heard in movies portraying military funerals: "On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation ..." but that terminology is only appropriate at the funeral, not upon notification.
* If an incident has occurred in theater, the CNO may explain the Soldier's dignified transfer detail at Dover Air Force Base.
* CNO teams will not perform a notification in the yard or standing by a vehicle. The team members will ask some questions to confirm that they are speaking to the correct person, and will also have specific information about the Soldier in question, such as his full name, rank, and other details. Normally they also know the unit. They will ask to speak to the family member privately inside the home.
* Before a CNO team leaves a family after the initial notification, he will leave the contact number of the CAC so that the family can call for more information as it becomes available. The team will also explain the duties of a CAO, although they may not yet know the CAO's name.
* The CAO should contact the family within four hours after notification from the CNO team. If the family wants to meet its Soldier at Dover, the CAO may contact the family even sooner than four hours, to help them with travel details.
* A CNO will not leave family members alone; he will ensure a neighbor or some other adult is with them before departing.
* Notification teams will not go to a school to inform a child. However, there are times when a notification must be done at an adult's work site.
"We only have four hours to notify the family from the time we are informed of an incident," Mr. Johnson added. "A death notification could happen with 12 hours of an incident, but due to time differences around the world, a family member might be notified within two or three hours of their last telephone conversation (or e-mail chat) with the Soldier."
* CNO teams will use the Soldier's name-never "the body" or "the remains" because that depersonalizes an issue that is intensely personal.
* Notification times occur between 5 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.
n The steps are the same throughout the Army, whether the Soldier is with an active duty, National Guard, or reserve component.
If someone contacts family members in any fashion outside those parameters, it should be considered a red flag; contact the CAC for confirmation, Ms. Wilson said. In addition, family members who have been notified of a Soldier's death should always let their CAO know if they decide to leave the local area, so that the CAO can reach them for other paperwork, she said.
Family members of deployed Soldiers should always ensure that the rear detachment commander, family care team, neighbors, or someone knows exactly how to reach them. Solders are sometimes hurt, or even killed, when the family is on vacation or visiting.
"Sometimes the CNO team goes to the door to notify a family of an incident, and no one is home," Mr. Johnson explained. "Then the CNO has to become Sherlock Holmes to track them down."
There have been cases where CNOs have had to do notifications for families at Disney World or on a cruise, he added.
For questions, contact Ms. Wilson at 624-3164.
"It's most unfortunate, but no matter what they read or hear, family members who see two Soldiers approach their home know that they haven't come for tea," Ms. Wilson said.