With news reports filtering from Iraq about fierce battles and American casualties, the U.S. Army has established a toll-free family assistance hot line for Army families seeking information about their deployed soldiers.

The Army’s Command and Family Support Center, in conjunction with the Army Family Liaison Office, created the hot line at 1-800-833-6622.

Officials stressed the hot line — staffed daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time — is intended for use only by family members of U.S. soldiers, not the general public.

“The mission of our Family Assistance hot line is to provide Army families caring support in the form of accurate information, useful resources, and helpful referrals related to family issues,” said Brig. Gen. Robert L. Decker, commander of the USACFSC, the Army agency responsible for Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

After a recorded message, callers can speak to hot line staff members who can answer questions about casualties or soldiers wounded or missing in action.

Because of the sensitivity of this information, the Army’s Casualty Assistance Office will first contact the soldier’s immediate family.

Once the Army is certain the soldier’s next of kin have been notified, information about soldiers’ deaths will then be released to the public.

Due to operational security and force protection concerns, CFSC hot line staff cannot provide locator services — addresses — for soldiers or units, or information about operational matters.

“Our staff will assist all callers by listening, explaining and directing them to the most helpful resources we can,” Gail Lovisone, manager of CFSC’s Family Assistance hot line call center, was quoted as saying in the release.

She stressed family members should start by first contacting the Army Community Service or unit rear detachment from the soldier’s home base.

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