Tears on the Boiler Plate

03/11/2007 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You've all read it or heard about it on television. Six American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb near Samarra on Monday. Sgt. Justin A. Rollins, of Newport, N.H., was one of them. He was an assistant machine-gunner in the 82nd Airborne Division. A second soldier named Pfc. Cory C. Kosters, 19, also died. He came from Woodlands, TX. They were 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers.

An 82nd Airborne captain memorialized the men in a release to the media. Capt. Eugene Farris said of Rollins, "On a daily basis he displayed courage, honor, and selfless service in the struggle to keep America safe and improve the nation of Iraq." Then, three paragraphs later he wrote, "Kosters truly is a hero that represents all that is great about America...he will be sorely missed and will forever live in our memories."

Wait a minute. Who is Kosters? I thought Rollins was going to live forever in your memories. Kosters is some other guy! Captain Farris can't even keep Rollins' name in mind for three paragraphs. It's boiler plate. They're just sliding names into slots in a standard release; everybody's a hero who represents all that is great about America, everybody will be sorely missed, everybody will live forever in our memories, in somebody's memories, but not yours, Captain Ferris.

For the record, Rollins was no slouch; he won the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the National Defense Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Humanitarian Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and the Parachutist's Badge--but the 82nd Airborne forgets him within three paragraphs.

What the release didn't tell us was how many times Sgt. Rollins had gone to Iraq. Was this his second tour, his third? That doesn't matter now. Rollins is a hero and he's dead. Maybe, to the 82nd, all the "heroes" are interchangeable--the Rollins', the Kosters', the other men who died: Spc. Ryan Bell, Staff Sgt. Justin Estes, Sgt. Andrew Perkins, Staff Sgt. Robert Stanley, they're all heroes and, to the 82nd, they're all the same.

I'll bet their next of kin all got the same release with the same quotes, and only the names and medals changed. Maybe the 82nd got the names right and maybe it didn't. It really doesn't matter. The people that loved the heroes are weeping all over the boiler plate.

UPDATE, 3/14: Apologies and Explanation

The target of this piece was not Captain Ferris. It was the boiler plate press releases that the army routinely sends out to newspapers and television stations upon the death of a soldier.

The Sgt. Rollins press release reads like it was prepared by an automaton. The format is always the same, similarly the words. All that is left for the Public Affairs Officer is to insert the name of the soldier killed in action with appropriate quotes from his leader. In Sgt. Rollins case the PAO couldn't even get that right. Maybe it was a computer error, maybe it was carelessness, but, in neither case, it's no way to memorialize the dead.

From what I read in the comments, Captain Ferris is a brave and compassionate leader. I'm sure everything he said came from his heart and I apologize to the men who served with him and others who knew him well because on rereading it is clear that I left that impression. I apologize for that.

It's the army SNAFU that makes me cry.