The Secretary of Defense Deeply Regrets to Inform You…

Is your next of kin on Facebook?  For all the military spouses and parents out there: is Facebook the way you would want to find out that something bad had happened to your loved one in a combat zone?  Sadly, that is just what is happening in this age of instant and continuous communication.

This article by a Washington Post writer relates how military spouses of Fort Campbell soldiers reacted to an imposed communications blackout after the unit had sustained casualties in Afghanistan.  Military officials typically shut down email and phone contact so that next of kin do not learn of their soldier’s fate via CNN or in passing in online chatter among other family members.  In the case of the Fort Campbell unit, one of the unit’s own soldiers violated the blackout by calling his wife to tell her he was OK and report who had been killed in an explosion.  Unfortunately, he had one of the names wrong.  As word got out, other family members wildly sought information from one another and compared names of possible casualties on Facebook.

I suspect that I was supposed to feel really sorry for the spouses who had been cut off.  After all, they were used to non-stop conversation with their loved ones.  Instead, I was outraged by this story.  Do we really think that the “right to know” is so sacred that we ought to seek and exchange information even at the expense of others’ well-being?  Imagine the effect of idle speculation on a child who overhears a phone conversation between wives or spends an hour browsing on Facebook.  Is it so terrible to wait until the basic facts and, indeed, the names are established?

Just because it is technologically possible to be in touch with your soldier, who is halfway around the world, doesn’t mean that you will hear from him regularly.  It’s possible that he might have something to do other than update his Facebook page.  You know, stand watch or go on patrol?  This is all connected to the idea that we can’t be without a cell phone–ever–not even in a restaurant or at church or boarding a plane.  Apparently, we must be in touch at all times, whether we are in the bathroom or driving down the interstate at 60 mph.

I know I am an old-school dinosaur, but I find this ridiculous. I would rather have “old” news that has been confirmed to be true than instantaneous reports that may be proved false later. Many of us survived multiple deployments without email and cell phones.  And even once email came into the picture, we realized that it was not a sure thing.  Here is my heartless piece of advice to spouses with a deployed loved one: find something to keep yourself busy!  You are only torturing yourself with this frantic 24/7 search for connection and information. 

Without a doubt, communications blackouts must bring a sense of dread to families and a desire to know what’s happening right now.  But do those few hours of waiting really cost us anything?  I would argue that those are extra hours a family has to consider itself normal and fine before tragedy robs them of that.  How many times does one spouse’s desire to find out take precious hours of normalcy away from another family?

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