Anything which alleviates or compensates for suffering or loss; a compensation; esp., an additional allowance, as for injured feelings
Derived forms: solatia
I had never heard the word "solatia" until Thanksgiving Day, 2004. I don't hope to ever hear it used the same way again.
The day before Thanksgiving, the enemy had tried to fire a spread of rockets at our base. 5 of them landed in the villages to the East-Southeast. A local truck driver had been stopped in an lot and outside of his cab when one of the rockets landed. He was killed immediately by the blast and shrapnel.
Site in Gholam-ali where the trucker was killed - the rocket impact site was filled in and covered with the dirt and stones you see.
I took a small group of soldiers out to see what had happened, and to talk to the people of the town and the farms that the rockets had hit. When I returned, after several hours of walking the countryside, I had a quiet Thanksgiving dinner with CSM Bones and reported to the Commander.
The Colonel told me he wanted me to go and meet the widow and relatives of the truck driver and express his condolences. When finished with the boss, his interpreter (a US citizen ex-pat)pulled me aside and mentioned that a solatia payment/gift would be highly appropriate - could we do that?
Further out in the countryside, I found one of the 107mm rocket impact sites. I am holding up a chunk of the body of the rocket.
From context, I figured what he meant, but I asked him to explain - dreading the answer. He told me that the widow would be destitute, as there was no such thing as insurance, survivor benefits and the like as we are used to. She, and her children, would be at the mercy of the next in-line male relative who would have to support them/take them in. They would probably be relegated to a very poor status - as the household of this relative would resent them coming to tap into what probably were scarce resources anyway. The solatia gift would help buffer them from poverty, and alieviate the burden on the family that now had more dependants.
I asked how much would be appropriate in this case. he told me Anything between $200-$300 US would be a year's income and do quite nicely. He suggested that I try to use CERP (Commander's Emergency Response Program) money for this.
I went and looked up the permissable uses for CERP funds, and sure enough, it was forbidden for this type of thing. I had $263 to last me until the next pay-day. I kept $20 for a haircut and a couple of coffees at the shop - I converted the rest into afghani and stuffed it into an envelop.
I took the smoothest local interpreter I could find to the meeting. Adjmal ("call me AJ") understood exactly what I needed - I had told him that I would probably run out of the right words to say, and if he could fill in the appropriate gaps, I would be thankful.
It was worse than I thought. I met the family at the district government center, thanks to the hospitality of my friend the district attorney, Kabir Ahmad. The widow came in with all six children, ranging in age from 2 to 13. Her male relatives had accompanied her and stayed with us, as well as the local police commander (a distant cousin of hers). I ran out of things to say in about 2 minutes. I offered her the envelop and she took it, proceeding to break down weeping right after. AJ was as good as his word, and he very respectfully finished addressing everyone. Many times the men in the room nodded their heads and told me "tashkur" (thank you). Having conveyed the Base Commander's condolances, I had to get out of there.
When I got back I spoke to the Deputy Commander, and he asked in a rather startled manner if I had used CERP money like I had mentioned. I told him I couldn't so I just used some of my own. He said something to the effect of "aw, dammit John why didn't you ask the rest of us to help." I told him that I didn't have time and not to worry about it. Naturally, he told the next staff meeting what happen, embarassing me greatly, and I got hit with a blizzard of $10 and $20 bills and "why didn't you say anything" questions. I still can't explain why I didn't, not to this day. I ended up turning all the money they gave me into afghani and keeping it aside just in case something like this came about again (it did).
3 months later, an official Solatia Program was developed, and some funds made available for it. It was aimed more at those who were working on our behalf, employed at bases, killed while assisting us - but it was a smart thing to do regardless of who it was meant for.
I am not sure why I was remembering all this last night as I tossed and turned. Thanks for letting me throw that out there and vent a little bit.