|By Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, Commanding General,
Installation Management Command
I commanded the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., as part
of the surge in Iraq in 2007-08. During that time, 153 Soldiers died in
combat, in a place on the battlefield where I put them. I pray for those
Soldiers and their Families every day. Their loss is something I have to
live with. For any leader, the loss of a Soldier hits hard. But the loss
that Survivors experience is magnitudes deeper and wider, because they
have lost not just a Soldier, but a friend, a son or daughter, a husband
or wife, a father or mother.
When I visit installations, I meet with those who have lost loved ones
on active duty. I make sure to talk with Survivors for two reasons. One
reason is that now, as the commander of Installation Management Command,
I need to know how we are doing with one of our newest programs,
Survivor Outreach Services (SOS). The other reason is that Survivors
need to know the Army recognizes and honors their Soldier’s service and
The best, most-meaningful thing we can do to honor our fallen Soldiers
is to support and care for those they left behind. SOS was established
in April 2008 to do just that, in a more comprehensive manner than ever
The Army is fortunate to have a leader like Chief of Staff Gen. George
W. Casey, Jr., who had the vision and compassion to propel the effort to
support Survivors beyond casualty assistance alone. Casualty assistance
officers work with Families during a very difficult time, a
heart-rending time, when Families are notified of their Soldier’s death
and have to make funeral arrangements and decisions about entitlements
But grief is very personal — it cannot be standardized or resolved in a
set time period. With the help of a panel of Survivors selected by Gen.
Casey, SOS was developed to provide longer-term, expanded support and
care, taking up where casualty assistance ends.
SOS offers support through benefits coordinators, who help Survivors
understand and apply for local, state and federal benefits; financial
counselors, who assist through investment and estate planning education;
and support coordinators, who facilitate support groups, provide life
skills education and connect Survivors with counseling resources.
More than 200 SOS personnel now are working on installations throughout
the United States and overseas, to include National Guard and Reserve
locations. The three components work and train together very closely on
this One Army program, to provide SOS services closest to where
It does not matter how a Soldier died, and there is no time limit on SOS
services. SOS coordinators extend a hand as Survivors are working with
casualty assistance officers in the first few months after a Soldier’s
death, but Survivors do not have to accept assistance right then or
They can decide to return months or years later. The important thing is
for Survivors to know that the support is there. They are not alone —
they are part of the Army Family for as long as they want to be.
There also are no exclusions in the definition of a Survivor. For the
SOS program, a Survivor is anyone — immediate Family, extended Family, a
friend, a fellow Warrior — who feels the loss of a Soldier. Every
Survivor is not entitled to the same benefits under law or regulations,
but SOS coordinators will work with any Survivor to access counseling
and other resources. Our partnerships with local and national support
organizations make this more expanded, inclusive approach possible.
SOS staff have made tremendous progress in a short time, receiving more
than 24,000 cases from Casualty and Mortuary Affairs and continually
reaching out to Survivors, both those who have suffered a loss recently
and those whose loss pre-dates the program. As the program becomes
established, they continue to refine and enhance services as more
Survivors provide feedback on their challenges and needs. For example,
this past year, when it became clear that Survivors who do not have ID
cards were having difficulty getting onto post to use services, SOS
developed a Survivor vehicle decal program to ease access and provide
special recognition. The decals currently are being distributed through
More information on SOS services and Survivor resources is available on
Army OneSource (www.myarmyonesource.com/FamilyProgramsandServices/SurvivingFamilies/SurvivorOutreachServices.aspx),
the SOS Facebook page and garrison SOS webpages. There also are links to
partner organizations whose support is so critical to connecting with
and providing for Survivors.
The loss of a Soldier is not a topic people want to talk about, but it
is a reality of military life.
We do what we can to prevent losses. We train for and plan our combat
operations. We stress safety in garrison. We have enhanced programs to
prevent risky behaviors and suicide.
In the end, though, despite our best efforts, we cannot prevent every
loss. That is why SOS is so crucial. To honor the fallen Soldier’s
service and sacrifice for our nation, we can do one last thing — offer
support for the loved ones the Soldier left behind.