The report is a condensation of team observations. It is organized as an
overview of responses to the disaster from the perceptions of those who were
primary participants in the aftermath. From initial immediate involvement
with the dead by troops participation in body recovery and identification at
Gander and the Dover mortuary, to the grieving community of families,
commanders and comrades at Fort Campbell, the summary provides specific
recommendations derived from post-disaster interventions and organizational
responses that proved effective. The recommendations are presented in the
hope that the lessons learned from the Gander tragedy will not be forgotten,
but will be used to develop doctrine and techniques of intervention for
community agencies, line and medical personnel in order to better prepare
for the next time.
The Role of Chaplains
After news of the Gander crash reached Ft. Campbell, chaplains joined the
death notification teams to begin the very difficult task of visiting the
bereaved families. While no one would deny that chaplains had their "finest
hour" in helping the bring the post through the crisis, chaplains had to
remind themselves that their extensive training and unquestionable
dedication did not allow them to mend every heart every time.
They too had to admit that they were neither invincible nor inexhaustible
before death and its consequences. Those chaplains who recognized that they
neither could nor had to do it all and, just as importantly, that they could
receive ministering as well as give it, generally were more effective over
the time of the crisis.
The crash tested the faith of both the families and the chaplains.
Chaplains seemed less well-equipped to defuse or contain the anger resulting
from the perception of the Army's or the airline's negligence. That there
were no survivors further added to chaplain's frustration in conveying a
message of hope.
Additionally, chaplains had to contend with families whose prior differences
surfaced in disagreements over the handling of personal effects or funeral
These disagreements were often compounded by the fact that
Army regulations provide for the spouse to the exclusion of other relatives,
and that those who are not legally tied to the service member (e.g.,
stepparents or grandparents) are ineligible for any benefits, no matter how
deserving they might be.
Clearly the pressure and pain surrounding the tragedy were greatest for
those chaplains closest to the 3/502nd, those specializing in family life
affairs, and those associated with the battalion reconstitution. Even here,
however, despite the tendency to maintain a hectic pace, most chaplains
avoided burnout by trusting others in helping roles to take over for them,
scheduling time for rest, and sharing feelings and experiences with other
chaplains without wives in whom they could similarly confide.