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"River City" and the Importance of the Military Death Notification Process

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Military service members are required to submit and annually update DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data, to the Department of Defense. This document allows service members to designate whom the military should notify in case of emergency or death. When a service member dies, designated members of their service branch are required to notify their next of kin. Each branch establishes policies for this process. For example, the Army requires that a uniformed service representative notify the next of kin within four hours after learning of the death.

During the past few years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, social media has complicated military death notifications. For example, Ariell Taylor-Brown, the wife of Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Brown, was informed of her husband’s death via Facebook. A member of his platoon contacted Ariell immediately after Staff Sergeant Brown was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

This circumvention of the casualty notification process can result in the next of kin being informed when they are alone and without any answers or explanations from military officials. However, leaks of service member deaths through social media have been fairly well contained. When a service member dies in a combat zone, the entire area of operation goes into what is called “River City.” River City is military jargon for a communications status, “Reduced Communications,” which is a total blackout of any and all non-operationally oriented communication assets. When River City is implemented, service members are prevented from contacting the outside world until the fallen service member’s family has been notified. River City can prevent service members from communicating with loved ones at home for a period of a few hours to a few days, but it is a necessary sacrifice to protect the dignity of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Brandon Heffinger

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