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SCHWEINFURT, Germany — It used to be the case that when soldiers went off to war, families were left with almost no direct support from the Army. The soldiers left behind to take care of the families were sometimes ill-equipped to do so.

There was, as Col. James M. Brown, a chaplain, puts it, a “leadership vacuum” at home.

The Army has realized it needs competent leaders to take care of Army families as well, he said.

“I did not, coming into the Army, think about the family side of things as a cadet going through college,” said Capt. Jacob White, who is an infantryman by training, but now serves as the rear detachment commander for 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. “Having done this role it just became so apparent to me how central families are to the Army really carrying out its mission.”

As the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division — the “Dagger Brigade” — began to train in January 2006 for its second Iraq deployment, its rear detachment operation spun up as well.

While soldiers slated for deployment practiced techniques they would use to clear buildings and combat insurgents, personnel assigned to take care of the home front practiced next of kin notifications and introduced the brigade’s families to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

The thinking was, you don’t want a family’s first trip to Landstuhl to be to visit their gravely wounded loved one.

Personnel who were assigned those tasks were evaluated to make sure they could handle the job with the sensitivity it requires.

“Not everyone’s cut out to do these jobs,” said Lt. Col. Robert Whittle, commander of the brigade’s rear detachment operation. They don’t even call it a rear detachment because J.B. Burton, the brigade’s commander, believed it carried a slightly negative connotation, Whittle said. As Brown noted, those left behind weren’t always fit for the job.

So Dagger Brigade’s rear detachment operation carries a name one would more likely see in the fight: Task Force Guardian.

Burton and his wife, Cathy, were responsible for creating the operation, Whittle said. But it’s Whittle and his staff that make it happen.

Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 1st Armored Division, jokes that he bothers Whittle all the time for ideas for his own rear detachment operation for the 1st AD headquarters’ deployment to Iraq later this year.


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