Not how I would have handled it

Most of you know that the Chinook community lost one of it's own a little while ago in a crash in Afghanistan. Chuck Sanders was the Flight Engineer on board and had been stationed in Alaska for 2 tours prior to his reassignment to Germany 5 months before the crash. Therefore he left behind many friends back in Alaska - in a unit dealing with the stress of its own deployment.

Here is an (altered) copy of a letter sent out to the families of the Sugarbears (the Chinook unit in Alaska) by the leader of the Battalion Family Readiness Group (aka FRG):

This is an email all FRG leaders received from (the Battalion FRG Coordinator) and she wanted me to pass it along to all of our families:
Dear Arctic Knight Families,
I am emailing you in response to all the concern and response to the CH-47 that crashed in Afghanistan 2 days ago. It has been rumored that a former 4-123 Arctic Knight was among the casualties on that aircraft. I highlight the word rumored because the Rear Detachment and myself have no official information confirming or denying this rumor. I have been in touch with the 18th Aviation Brigade Commander’s wife, Mrs. ***** *****, last night and this morning. Her husband, Colonel *****, and the 12th Aviation Brigade Commander are still working this accident which means that all notifications have not been made. Until that time no names will be released.
The Rear Detachment and myself will send out an email to every family member in 4-123 if this rumor turns out to be a rumor and no former 4-123 soldier was among the casualties. If the rumor turns to be an actuality then I will contact your Company FRG leaders with a message and you will be contacted by your key caller and the battalion will send the family our sympathies.
I want to thank you for all your concern and caring and I also want to remind you that this soldier rumored to be killed and all other soldiers that have PCS’d from our unit are now part of another family support group. I pray for all of them but our Rear Detachment cannot field phone calls about every incident that happens in all other units. They are working tirelessly to support our 500 soldiers deployed and still deploying (we have 5 soldiers leaving Saturday to deploy over) and their families here. Please, if you have any concerns or questions contact your Company FRG leader or myself. We will get the most accurate information out to you as soon as we can. Aviation is a small community and when we lose an aircraft and soldiers we all feel it throughout. This war has cost ***** and myself some friends so I understand your concern. Please be patient until we can get the proper authorities, DA, USARAK, or 18th AVN BDE to confirm or deny the rumor.
Until then, please pray for the families that are facing this terrible loss and are still waiting to know. Pray for our warriors fighting the same cause in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and here in Alaska!
4-123 Families Care!
**** *****

This is unbelievable. This is NOT what the Chinook community is about. We are a FAMILY and it doesn't matter if he was no longer a part of that unit - he was still family. And where does that leave his wife and children? Five months is not enough time to develop and nurture bonds that will sustain you through a tragedy such as this. The people most able to help SSG Sander's wife and children are those people they left behind in Alaska.

And while I understand that the Rear Detachment and the FRG in Alaska are there to help the families of THAT unit, those people were FRIENDS with the Sanders and therefore DESERVE THE HELP OF THE REAR DETACHMENT AND THE FRG.

I am so angry right now that I could spit nails. This is the height of insensitivity and callousness. It is incomprehensible to me that someone who is supposed to be in a position of SUPPORT could do this.

Several Chinook family members - many (if not all) being either current or former Sugarbears themselves, sent a letter in reply. Here is the (altered) text :

Subject: A soldiers message regarding SSG Sanders, ALWAYS A SUGARBEAR
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2005 08:16:50 -0700 (PDT)
Mrs. *****,
We just finished reading the message you sent out to all the FRG leaders concerning the CH-47 crash and I felt compelled to respond. I'm sure your intent was not to be dismissive but that is how it was interpreted by many families. The death of SSG Chuck Sanders is not a rumor - it is a fact. I understand the reasons behind waiting for official notification but that doesn't change the fact that (his wife) is now a widow and (his children) are without a father. It makes no difference that the Sanders’ are no longer in our Battalion. They arrived in Germany just a few months prior to his deployment so I'm sure they are much closer to the people in Alaska than to their current FRG.
The FRG is about taking care of actual people, not serving a select group of customers. If you take the personal aspect away you are left with nothing but a lot of work and useless meetings. There is never a greater need for the FRG than when someone dies - regardless if they are in Germany or Alaska. We have already received numerous e-mails offering help from people outside of the Battalion who are not concerned about whose command he was under.
What they care about is the person. I feel pretty confident that (his wife) is not interested in the sympathies of a Battalion - what she needs is understanding and compassion from individuals. I can understand the frustration involved in dealing with numerous phone calls and having no answers but please do not send out an e-mail that insinuates that it isn't our FRG's problem. Many friends of the Sanders’ remain in Alaska and they need the support. The FRG is there to support the emotional and physical needs of families and if this incident doesn't meet that criteria then we need to re-evaluate what we are doing.
He was not just a former soldier from 4/123, he was a good friend to many of the people here and in Alaska and his family will continue to belong to the SUGARBEARS and the chinook community indefinitely. She and the kids deserve all the help we can give.
David Lyons
(also signed by 14 other Chinook family members)

That pretty much covered everything that I would have said only without the expletives.

And for the record, SSG Sanders' funeral will be Thursday, April 21, 2005. His family could still use the prayers and good thoughts.

Chuck Sanders' memorial website

1 comment:

Katy said...

I am so glad a response letter was sent. The families of the fallen soldiers deserve much more than convenience. I am so sorry for their loss and yours as well. It is hard to lose a friend and to see others suffer. My thoughts are with you and his family.


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