In the Israeli Army there’s a special service that has the main task of finding a dead soldier’s family as soon as possible and informing them about the loss of their loved one. One such messenger is a hotel manager by day, but while on active duty, he is a Senior Commander. He keeps his uniform in his car— it’s a uniform that’s every family in Israel knows well. Basically Yan can’t leave the city because if there’s a notification he has to be at headquarters within 30 minutes.
The messengers usually travel in groups of three. Once they have verified that they have the correct address, they knock on the door to deliver the news. Of course this would be easier with a phone call, but they don’t feel that it’s right way to dispense such delicate news.
The message follows a specific script, and the officers aren’t allowed to improvise or add anything to it. They are given a page with the family details and the exact working of what must be said to them. In order to seem less callous, they memorize the message instead of simply reading it.
And so they knock on the door and deliver heartbreaking news. People handle the information in different ways. Some pass out, others burst into tears, while a few begin to shout or run away.
After the event, the family is placed in the care of a Family Liason Officer who helps them cope with their loss. This officer accompanies them through periodic visits and phone calls. This is particularly so for women who lose their only child in action.
The job of a messenger is not easy. The army provides psychological assistance to help the messengers cope with the burden of being the constant bearers of bad news. When they are on call, every phone call from an unknown number is cause for agitation because unknown numbers are usually from the military. That phone call means that within a few minutes they need to be in a completely different place dealing with an unpleasant situation.
For Israeli families, it’s shockingly frequent to have their children die in the army and often some families lose more than one child. This happens because under Israeli law, every young person must serve in the army at the age of 18. Boys have to remain for three years and girls for two years. When you add it up, families spend years living in dread of receiving the news of their child’s death.