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European edition, Sunday, August 5, 2007

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — In October, a sniper’s bullet tore through Staff Sgt. Raja Richardson’s forearm as he was moving a traffic cone at a checkpoint near Baghdad.

Now back in Schweinfurt, Richardson, who was with Company C of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, winces every time he receives a dreaded notification. He’s known many of the 27 men in the battalion who have died in Iraq.

“Goot, he was a very outstanding guy,” Richardson said, referring to Sgt. 1st Class Luis Enrique Gutierrez-Rosales, killed July 18 by a roadside bomb, whose memorial service in Schweinfurt was Wednesday.

After Richardson was wounded, doctors inserted a metal plate into his arm to stabilize the broken bones. He wanted to return to the front, cast and all, but his bosses had other ideas.

Richardson was made a family readiness liaison. His jobs include seeing that spouses whom the soldiers married during leave from Iraq get through the correct paperwork and settle into military housing.

“So [the new spouses] will be waiting with open arms when they get back,” Richardson said.

In a lot of ways, military communities are like extended families.

At least that’s the way L.B. Wish, a Sarasota, Fla., social worker and psychologist, sees it. She has helped U.S. military members and families deal with traumatic events since 1978. When one of those family members dies, it affects everybody in some way, Wish said.

Over the last year, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division — the “Dagger Brigade” — has lost about four men a month in fighting in Iraq.

“So the loss of 50 [now 56] men, imagine what goes through your mind,” said Wish. Families’ minds can whir with anger, fear and frustration as they wonder if they’re next and if they’re prepared for it.

“It kind of shakes up your superstitious thinking,” Wish said. Some military spouses, confronted with the death of a friend’s husband, might think their own husbands would never die. Others might think their husband is next.

“Some people go through mourning as if it already happened to them,” she said.

The family should learn about mourning and grief, Wish said. “It’ll make you feel like you’re not so crazy or alone.”

Small discussion and support groups and family meetings also can help, especially if everyone’s encouraged to openly discuss their feelings, she said.

But “it’s very important to know that everyone mourns in their own way,” she said, adding that not everyone is going to join the crowd.

The way to test for problems, she said, is to read about mourning and see if your reactions fit the description, and ask yourself if you’re doing everything you should be doing.

Am I parenting well? Am I managing the house and finances well? Am I coping well with my moods and behavior? Am I confiding in somebody?

Everyone should have at least one buddy who can monitor them for feelings of depression, which can end up as something destructive, such as drinking, drug use or gambling, or as something less sinister, such as sleeping or eating too much or too little, she said.

Good preparation, though, is the best thing anyone can do to make it easier to cope with death if it does happen. This should be done before the soldiers leave for war.

Couples and families should discuss what they would do if someone dies, organize all their important paperwork and make sure they have a will, Wish said.

Military communities, which are usually better prepared for tragedies than average communities, generally do these things well, Wish said.

“I can tell you that if I lost my husband … I would rather be with a military community because of the resources that would be there and people who would understand the situation.”

Read the related story: Europe's deadliest deployment.


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