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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 19:17 GMT
The pain behind the headlines

By Caroline Ryan
BBC News Online

Light infantry from 2nd Royal Tank Battle group in action at Az Zubaya near Basra
British troops are operating in hazardous conditions
Families of British personnel killed or missing in action during the conflict in Iraq are being guided through their grief and sadness by trained armed services support staff.

The system swings into action as soon as casualties are reported.

Each of the armed forces has a support system to which families and partners of regular and reservist personnel can turn to for help and advice.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: "They would take responsibility from the time the family were informed, supporting them, helping them deal with the media.

We wouldn't abandon them at all
Naval Personal and Family Service
"They would go to their homes to support them."

The named next-of-kin are contacted first, but others close to the serviceman, including girlfriends or boyfriends, can call on the service for support.

The Naval Personal and Family Service (NPFS) employs trained social workers who support serving personnel and their families.

After the initial visit following a death, others who can help with funeral and financial arrangements will visit the family.

The NPFS also offers any emotional support they may need.

Its helpline, which usually receives around 15 calls a week, received between 50 and 60 in the last week from people asking for advice and information.

Lance Corporal Barry Stephen
I know he was very proud to be a soldier and to wear the Red Hackle
Friend of Lance Corporal Barry Stephen

A spokeswoman for NPFS told BBC News Online: "We do provide counselling for a long time afterwards.

"Most people divorce themselves from the armed forces between six and 12 months afterwards. Then, if they want it, we can put them in touch with someone on the outside.

"We wouldn't abandon them at all."

She added: "People obviously go through tremendous grief. People in the armed forces know these sorts of things could happen, but they don't expect it to happen to them."

But she said the immediate images of war families see on their television screens can make it difficult to follow the established procedure and notify them of a loved one's death before news of an incident is aired.

Armed forces also offer counselling and support for units hit by casualties, such as 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, which lost eight servicemen when a US helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait.

People can feel angry with the person for being out there, or they may feel pride
Spokeswoman for bereavement charity Cruse

Staff from Royal Marines Welfare, a sister organisation to the NPFS, are on their way out to the unit.

The NPFS spokeswoman said: "They are trained counsellors. They will be able to offer support and care to servicemen and women in the unit."

A spokeswoman for the bereavement charity Cruse told BBC News Online, relatives of those killed in the conflict would be going through a range of emotions.

"People can feel angry with the person for being out there, or they may feel pride."

But she said the attention given to wartime casualties can be difficult for families to cope with.

"Sometimes it becomes very much like there's public ownership of the grief and the death."

The coverage can also be difficult for those whose loved ones are missing in action, she said.

"Often, the uncertainty is frightening."

Cruse's bereavement helpline can be contacted on 0870 1671677.

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