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Army apologizes for hurtful message to survivors

Posted January 7, 2009

— The Army said Wednesday that 7,000 family members of soldiers killed in the Iraq or Afghan wars mistakenly were sent letters addressing them as "John Doe." Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., was sending a personal letter to all the families who received the improperly addressed letters as the result of a printing error, the Army said.

The 7,000 original letters were sent late last month to inform survivors about private organizations that offer gifts, programs and other assistance to families that have lost soldiers in Iraq or other countries where they are deployed for the war on terrorism.

It was sent from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center in Alexandria, Va., which issued a formal apology Wednesday.

The letters, which were printed by a contractor, were to have been automatically addressed with the specific names and addresses of survivors, said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. Instead, they contained the placeholder greeting - "Dear John Doe."

Boyce said he wasn't sure how many Fort Bragg families had received the letter, but he estimated the number to be "in the several hundreds".

"It's our fault for not catching it," he said. "We are certainly sorry."

Casey's personal note to the families alluded to the fact that he lost his own father in Vietnam and it said the Army is extremely sensitive to family grief.

An apology also was being posted on the human resources Web site, Boyce said.

"There are no words to adequately apologize for this mistake or for the hurt it may have caused," Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, the Army adjutant general, said in the statement to be posted.

Boyce said all the other information in the letter regarding the assistance organizations was correct.

"It is important the original intent of the letter is not lost," Jones' statement said. "The organizations mentioned are dedicated to honoring loved ones and recognizing their sacrifice and commitment."



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  • discowhale Jan 8, 2009

    Now we know where WRAL gets the proofreaders for their online content. The ARMY and the Army's mail merge contractor.

  • FromClayton Jan 8, 2009

    I do very large mail merges, and a big run of 7,000 is actually not that easy. However, I also know how to do the merging part right and always read every single word in the first one that prints before I print the rest. I would have caught this! I'm sure of it!

  • nighthunter Jan 7, 2009

    Contrary to Rev. RB's assertion, Mail Merge is NOT easy nor intuitive, and depending on a number of things, the initial form of the salutation on the form letter could easily have been overlooked in a busy work environment, particularly if being handled by more than one person.

    And from my viewpoint, mistakes happen, and this one definately was serious, but it does NOT fall into the catagory of those things that should result in reducing someone's rank, or causing them to be fired.

    As a veteran, my condolances to those who have lost a loved one in ANY of our military endeavors, and my hopes that the information the letter was trying to convey will be of use.

  • Adelinthe Jan 7, 2009

    "The Army said Wednesday that 7,000 family members of soldiers killed in the Iraq or Afghan wars mistakenly were sent letters addressing them as "John Doe."

    OMG!!! And it was done by a contractor. Sheesh! Mail merges aren't that difficult, and one of the first things you check when doing one is to be sure the proper information is going into the placeholders (which by the way aren't filled in with anything but programming script - not actual words like "John Doe").

    What a huge gaff!

    Praying for anyone who has lost a family member while in service to their country, and for those who still have family members serving.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • WHEEL Jan 7, 2009

    The important item missing from this story is who got fired or busted in rank. I'm sorry doesn't cost much.