USA — ‘Rear D’ Moves Into High Gear as Tragedy Strikes

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 Schmidt 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 eight sol­diers since deploy­ing in August. Army Capt. Ellery Wal­lace, its com­pa­ny com­man­der, and 20-year-old Pfc. Bryan Raver were among the first, killed by a rock­et-pro­pelled grenade almost imme­di­ate­ly after they 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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