When Bad News Comes in Threes

The IDF conducts an intelligence-gathering operation before the news of a soldier's death is delivered to his family.

The bereaved families of IDF fallen soldiers never forget the traumatic knock on the door, announcing the arrival of three military men in uniform and a doctor, who have come to inform them of the death of their loved one. Yet it turns out that the process of relaying the news begins well before that knock, with a preliminary walk, usually by a reserve soldier in civilian dress, around the home or place of work of the deceased soldier's parents.

The reason for this procedure is that the IDF cannot allow itself to err and knock on the wrong door, or arrive at a home where there are kids alone without their parents. In order to avoid an unforgivable error, the IDF tries to gather preliminary data about the family, and the home or place of work where those relaying the information are to go, and so sends an advance detachment.

"They will never come to a family if they do not know that the death has been confirmed," explained Maj. (res.) Eti Evlin, who was until recently responsible for training and education in the IDF casualty network. "Notices, even if they are slightly delayed, will arrive with 100 percent certainty." The IDF regulations for relaying the announcement are very stringent. "In the team of three messengers and the doctor, usually reservists, there is a number one messenger who is the one who knocks on the door and conveys the message," continues Evlin. "The number-two messenger is there and helps him, for example, by talking to the kids or the wife, and messenger number three is usually new to the system and accompanies the first two, so that they can also see how he copes."

The intelligence-gathering job is assigned to messenger number three. "Many times, when they don't know where the house is, messenger number three comes in order to locate the correct house. They do all kinds of checks, look to see if the car is there, that the parents are home. If they know that the parents are at work, then they will check at the place of work. They will call and say, 'We are looking for so-and-so.'"

The preliminary checks are necessary for all kinds of reasons. "Once we had to inform a father who worked at a high-tech company that his son had been killed," relates someone well versed in the intelligence work. "In order to avoid the appearance of having three confused officers showing up at the company's offices and stirring panic, messenger number three arrived at the office in civilian dress to see who was there, where the father was, and how one entered his office. She presented herself as a customer and went right up to the father's office to confirm that he was physically there. When she knew exactly where he was, and how they would enter his office, she went back down to the building's entrance and met the other messengers, who went up to see the father."