Thursday, April 13, 2006


Solatia - solatium (solatia) sow'leysheeum
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.


Blogger Cowgirl said...

Wow. You are amazing and kind.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Major John said...


I still don't know why I did some of what I did. I really should have asked the rest of my group for help - I am not sure why I didn't. I am just glad that commanders now have the ability to do this type of thing through regular channels.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Citizen Deux said...

More and more we soldiers and sailors must remind ourselves that we ARE diplomats when overseas. Our actions directly reflect upon our nation and its values. Some of us forget that. Clearly, Major, you did not.

More cultural awareness for our deploying troops will aid us far better than any top to top discussions.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

I am now the S-5 (Civil-Military Operations Officer)of my Brigade. My people will get everything I can teach them - so this kind of thing doesn't come as a shock.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah ha! Just as I suspected reading through your blog. You're one of those soldiers that breaks down doors and terrorizes women and children in the dark of night.

Seriously, this is a very heartwarming story. One of many that more accurately depicts the true nature of our service personnel. Thank you for sharing it, and thank you for representing our country in such a fine manner.


3:50 PM  
Blogger Acad Ronin said...

Above & beyond, & best traditions.

The pessimist in me wonders how much stuck to the fingers of the male relative.

You still did more than the right thing. I just wonder.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

Acad - good, if cynical point. I don't think he took any of it away from her, that would really be beyond the pale - but trust me, he knew about it, and factored it into any decisions he made. I just hoped that she had the good fortune to have decent relatives.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Shelleigh (Pixie) said...

You're a good man, Major John.

1:35 AM  
Blogger dave bones said...

yeah, nice one dude. like anoymous said. Good to hear.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

Dave - I suspect had you been in a position to, you would have done just the same.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous major tim said...

Editor and Publisher has published an article highly critical of solatia payments and other such compensation. "What price (when we do pay) do we place on the life of a 9-year-old boy, shot by one of our soldiers who mistook his book bag for a bomb satchel? Would you believe $500?"

The flippant article is entitled
Sorry We Shot Your Kid, But Here's $500, and I imagine the writer has no concept of what it's like to have to face the families or next of kin in these situations.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous generic cialis said...

I think that this is really interesting, I have been reading about it , I want to read more about it , I really like to read similar things!

11:08 AM  
Blogger Marla@CIVIC said...

Hey there LTC John,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful blogging and your service to our country. This one from 2006 on Solatia is particularly interesting.

I work for a small NGO called CIVIC. We're based in Washington, DC but we work with warring parties around the world (including the US military and ISAF) to help protect civilians and to create programs to help those they accidentally harm as a course of their combat operations.

This post goes directly to the work we've been doing with the US military. I wonder if you might have a few minutes to chat about your experiences.

You can check out your work here:

Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ssedicorI happened upon your blog when looking up the meaning of this word. You are a kind, decent and honourable man, Major John. God bless you.

12:17 PM  

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