War on Terrorism

Sunday, December 05, 2010

‘Rear D’ Moves Into High Gear as Tragedy Strikes

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2010 – When Army Maj. Bradd Schultz, rear detachment commander for the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, got a middle-of-the-night phone call from Afghanistan earlier this week, he knew the news wasn’t going to be good.

Six soldiers from the brigade’s 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, were killed Nov. 29 in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province –- reportedly at the hands of an Afghan border police officer. The soldiers killed were Sgt. 1st Class Barry E. Jarvis, Staff Sgt. Curtis A. Oakes, Spc. Matthew W. Ramsey, Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen, Pfc. Austin G. Staggs and Pfc. Buddy W. McLain.

The deaths bring the losses since the “Curahee Brigade” deployed to Afghanistan in August as the final element of the troop surge to 13.

“It’s the worst kind of call you can get,” Schultz said of receiving the news. “But I know, when that phone rings, this is it. This is why we are here. This is our time to do it right.”

Schultz leads the “Rear D,” a 54-person skeletal staff that remained at Fort Campbell, Ky., when the brigade deployed.

The Rear D performs a broad range of missions, from maintaining property and equipment to untangling deployed soldiers’ pay and legal problems. In addition, since the brigade deployed, the detachment has trained more than 450 soldiers, many of them fresh out of advanced individual training, to join the brigade in Afghanistan.

But these missions take a back seat to what Schultz called the Rear D’s most important calling: taking care of families and honoring the fallen. As they juggle myriad missions, he said, they never lose sight of the needs of deployed soldiers’ families, particularly families of troops killed.

So the Rear D moved into high gear after getting word of the latest casualties. Following painstakingly thought-out procedures, they went to work to support the families of the fallen, as well as those of their deployed comrades-in-arms.

The Rear D arranged for the next of kin to be notified, delivering the heartbreaking news personally to families living in or near Fort Campbell, and serving as casualty assistance officers to provide administrative assistance and ongoing support. “We want Currahees taking care of Currahees,” Schultz said.

For families living outside the area, the Rear D made contact with notification teams and casualty assistance officers to provide any support required.

Meanwhile, Schultz consulted his list of family care team volunteers -- spouses from the brigade specially trained to come to a family’s side immediately after being notified of their loved one’s death. The team, which is deployed to the home only if the family requests it, arrives with a box of household staples, a shoulder to cry on and helping hands to do whatever the family needs, from straightening up the house to prepare for visitors and answering phone calls to walking the family dog.

The idea, Schultz explained, is to ensure there’s no gap between when a family receives notification and either their personal support network or the official military support network arrives. “We drop this devastating news on them, and we don’t want to leave them,” he said. “We will work to make sure someone is there as long as they need them.”

While tending to the families, the brigade’s Rear D also is working to provide its fallen soldiers the honor they deserve. A Rear D team processes paperwork for each casualty, ensuring that any awards earned during the deployment are ready to be presented in time for the funeral.

And as the remains of the fallen Currahee soldiers arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., late Dec. 1, the Rear D prepared to dispatch several of its members to escort them to their funeral or burial sites and to represent the command at their funerals.

Schultz recognized the devastation of the soldiers’ deaths to the entire brigade, but particularly to the 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment. The squadron has lost nine soldiers since deploying in August. Army Capt. Ellery Wallace, its company commander, was among the first, killed by a rocket-propelled grenade almost immediately after the unit arrived in Afghanistan.

Just as the squadron has suffered, so, too, have its family members, Schultz said. So on Dec. 1, as families struggled with news of the six casualties, the Rear D organized a “Caring Hearts” session to provide information and comfort. Joined by post chaplains and counselors, the team explained what happened, read messages sent by Army Col. Sean Jenkins, the brigade commander, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Santos, and gave the families a chance to grieve together and talk openly about their feelings.

“These families have really been though a lot,” Schultz said. “Some of these families are really torn up, and we were able to sit and, as the Currahee family, talk about it.”

Schultz and his Rear D soldiers spend the vast majority of their time providing a vital link between forward-deployed troops and their families and helping families deal with issues that arise during the deployment. “These guys are really at the front of leading the families through,” Schultz said of his team. “Every day, we deal with something new and different.”

During the first month of the brigade’s deployment, the Rear D handled more than 100 family issues, although Schultz said that number has dropped as families adjust to the deployment. But regardless of how busy he and his soldiers get, Schultz said, they drop everything to tend to families’ needs or concerns.

“We are the problem solvers in the rear detachment,” he said. “If we don’t take care of the families that are here and that come to us for help, we are failing.”

Early in the war, deploying units often left their weakest members behind to serve in the Rear D, not fully recognizing the consequences, Schultz said. “They quickly realized that if you don’t man your rear detachment properly, you are going to have issues with your home front,” he said.

Schultz praised the professionalism of his Rear D soldiers, most of whom are seasoned combat veterans and all hand-picked by their commanders for their strengths.

He admitted that most, given the choice, would prefer deploying over serving in the Rear D. “You joined the Army to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “You don’t join the Army to stay back here in the rear, dealing with all these issues. You would rather be out maneuvering.”

Schultz, who had been slated to attend a military school rather than deploying, said he did the unthinkable by volunteering to serve as Rear D commander. It allowed him to continue serving the Currahee, and also to remain at home with his children while his wife is deployed with the NATO International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Afghanistan.

“When I was named for the job, I think every field grade officer in the brigade sighed with relief,” Schultz said.

Although they’re not on the front lines, the Rear D soldiers play a critical part of the war effort through support for Currahee families, Schultz said.

“If you can go day to day without worry about anything at home, it takes away those distractions so you can focus on the mission,” he said. “And if something happens, you don’t have to worry about your families sitting back here by themselves. You know that someone is here for them and is going to step in.”

Schultz underscored the importance of the Rear D mission to his soldiers the day he took charge. “I told them on Day One: They don’t make movies about the rear detachment. They don’t write books about the rear detachment. Nobody even knows we exist.

“But if we don’t do our job right,” he continued, “our soldiers aren’t going to be focused on what they need to be focused on.”

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