TO MY NON-MILITARY FRIENDS:
Do you know what a CACO is? [Kay-co] My guess is no. It stands for Casualty Assistance Calls Officer. You know them from films as the impeccably dressed men in uniforms who arrive on the doorsteps of WWII widows to announce the news of the deceased (think “Saving Private Ryan”). We, in the military community, know them as every day service members, sometimes our good friends, always the people who walk beside families during an injury or grieving process (for months or years) as paperwork is processed and affairs are put in order.
Every unit in the Navy has someone trained as a CACO, should a service member be seriously injured or killed during his/her service. We military spouses understand the role of this person and hope we never interact intimately with him/her, but if we linger long enough, we hear of it happening. We hear of the CACOs visiting and informing every person designated by the service member in the official paperwork. And our entire community grieves.
Years ago, upon an injury or death, the CACO would receive the official list, coordinate with CACOs in other cities and states (if necessary) and attempt to notify the next of kin in-person as soon as possible. But they wouldn’t come between the hours of midnight and 4:00am. Now, in 2022, it’s a minute-by-minute race against the internet, television and social media. It’s a race against smart phones and photos and tweets that can be sent across the world in five minutes or less. And in a world of sensational news stories, military mishaps are just that.
People race to share articles and details- SHOCK THE WORLD, BE THE FIRST TO ANNOUNCE THE NEWS, or maybe even just express patriotism and gratitude for those who sacrifice it all- but have they thought about who might see it? Aren’t we all connected by six degrees? Think of the spouse who is innocently scrolling through Facebook and sees someone share a news story about a military accident or possible death. What if their spouse is in that area or deployed on that ship? SHEER PANIC. What about the mother/father/brother/aunt/best friend or cousin who stumbles upon the news while posting their Wordle score on Facebook? TERROR.
As military spouses we know that when we hear of anything in this category, we aren’t supposed to call anyone or become private investigators. We know that our job is to stay quiet, sometimes stay home and simply wait, because we understand the role of the CACO and we know that the official processes have begun and we are not to interfere, or worse, cause emotional harm to someone who hears through inappropriate channels. We know the Navy will release the names twenty-four hours after the next of kin are notified and we are not to interrupt the flow of information.
Believe me, waiting is easier said than done. I sat in my house once, weeping alone by my front window when my neighbor’s aviation squadron had a death and the name hadn’t yet been announced. Was it him?? What about his family?? Should I go over there?? I wanted to run across the lawn and bang on the door and know for myself what was happening!! But as another wise military spouse once told me: “This is not about you.”
Many of us in the aviation community remember the tragic story of the spouse waiting to hear about the fate of her husband whose aircraft had crashed into the sea. “Search and Rescue Called Off” was shared by a Facebook “friend” before her CACO had made contact with her again. SHE LEARNED OF HER HUSBAND’S OFFICIAL DEATH ON FACEBOOK. Please pause and ruminate on that horrible tragedy.
Unfortunately that is not the only example of gross social media failures amongst the military community. They are still happening. The only way to stop them is to be ever mindful of the speed of news and the online spaces that connect us all.
As I was thinking about this subject, I was hoping that my younger military spouse friends understood the gravity of these situations. And then it made me wonder if the public did. ? So maybe this is my non-official Public Service Announcement, to share the details of tragic circumstances to help people to understand that while knowledge is power, it is also tremendously tragic if used and propagated at the wrong time.
Please think soundly when you want to share an article about a service member’s recent death. If the Department of Defense has not yet officially released the names and the photos of the deceased, it is not appropriate to share ANYTHING. If you know the identity before that press release, please don’t post on a family’s timeline or newsfeed because, again, who is going to see that prematurely? Even a simple “I am so sorry for your loss”, written publicly at the wrong time, is vastly inappropriate.
REMEMBER: it’s not about you.
And it’s not about me.
It’s about caring for and respecting military families in the midst of crisis.
Please join me in protecting our service members and being good stewards of information.
**If you are interested in further supporting Navy & Marine Corps families in the midst of crisis’, consider donating to The Wingman Foundation at wingmanfoundation.org**