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Mideast edition, Sunday, April 29, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps is putting time restrictions on when families can be notified that their loved ones are missing or have been killed.

Instead of notifying families at any time of the day or night, notifications will now take place between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight, according to a recent MARADMIN (Marine Administrative Message).

At the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Corps decided to let family members know if their loved ones became combat casualties as soon as possible so they did not hear about it first from the news media, Corps officials said in an e-mailed response to questions Friday.

But after a forum this January on how to streamline practices to support wounded and fallen Marines, Corps officials decided to go the old standard of limiting notifications between 5 a.m. and midnight “so that clergy, other family members, neighbors and community support programs are accessible to survivors,” officials said.

The change is effective immediately, according to MARADMIN 284/07 available at www.usmc.mil.

For the Navy, the notification time period is 6 a.m. to midnight under most circumstances.

The Air Force also restricts notification hours to 6 a.m. to midnight.

The Army’s long-standing policy is to only notify next-of-kin between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., according to Army Maj. Jim Eldredge, a spokesman for casualty affairs.

The limits are in place because “notification of next of kin is a significant occasion that is done in as dignified a manner as possible,” Eldredge told Stars and Stripes on Friday.

Exceptions to the Army regulation (which is found in AR600-8-1) “are given, but they are rare and case by case,” Eldredge said.

Eldredge said he could not find anyone in the Army’s casualty affairs office who knew exactly when the Army adopted the limited notification hours, “but they’ve been around as long as anyone can recall,” he said.

The Army has no plans to change its policy, he said. In fact, he said, the entire AR600-8-1 regulation, which covers all aspects of casualty notifications, “was updated in February, so if they were going to change it, it would have happened then.”

Eldredge was asked if the Army is concerned that relatives may find out about the death of a loved one from media sources during the “blackout” period — particularly in an age when news is broadcast 24 hours a day, and some family members of deployed soldiers stay up through the night specifically watching cable television or scanning the Internet for word of their servicemember.

“No, it’s not a great concern,” Eldredge said.

Army public affairs officials do not release the names of the dead or other identifying information, such as their units, to the media until 24 hours after the final next-of-kin notification has been made, “even if it’s a group” of soldiers who has died, Eldredge said.

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