Deadly July for our troops


On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, held a round-table with reporters to talk about the recent deaths and Fort Bragg's response.

Military officials say 57 American service members have died in Afghanistan in July, including at least 13 Fort Bragg soldiers. One more died in Iraq. The soldiers were from the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team and the 20th Engineer Brigade's 27th Engineer Battalion.

The Department of Defense says June was the deadliest month for coalition troops in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001. At least 104 coalition troops - 60 U.S. troops - were killed.

Fort Bragg is one of 35 casualty assistance centers in the Army and handles all soldiers killed in North Carolina. The center helps a soldier's family with paperwork and benefits and trains officers to help families and break the news of a soldier's death.

"I asked him what he wanted and then he said that they needed me to open the door," said Starr Whitten, a military widow. "And I said, 'No, what do you want?' At that moment I knew. They wouldn't have shown up at my house for that ... for anything else but that."

All soldiers, sergeant first class and above, must go through the two-day training so they can help the families of fallen soldiers.

"The wife asked me three questions when I told her husband died, where is the body, was he in pain, and how can I raise a daughter without a father," said Helmick, referring to when he was a casualty assistance officer.

Besides training casualty assistance officers, the post has created volunteer care and comfort support teams to help widows with everything from walking the dog to washing dishes and built a support center dedicated to surviving spouses.

"We make sure that the family is taken care of not just during the grieving process and accompaniment to funerals, it's a process that goes all the way to the end," said Sgt. 1st Class Felix Serra, who has been in the Army 17 years and has been a casualty assistance officer several times.

Widow Shelia Harriman says it's a far cry from when her husband, Stan, was killed. He was one of the first American casualties in Afghanistan. Harriman says when he died, his military pay and many benefits stopped.

"It's still tough to look back at it my biggest concern was what's going to happen to me and my children are we going to be able to keep our house, I almost lost our house," she said.

Harriman says she eventually got the help and support her family needed.

Fort Bragg has almost 2,000 surviving spouses, parents and children in its database and formed the Fort Bragg Survivor Outreach Services to help widows find a community where they feel comfortable.

"If we didn't have those types of people, it could have been ... the emotional impact could have been much worse," said Maj. Fred Dela Cruz with the 82nd Airbore Division.

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