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Round-the-Clock Center Aids Families, Loved Ones of Pentagon Casualties

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 15, 2001 – More than 300 family members and loved ones of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon have visited DoD's Family (Casualty) Assistance Center in the Sheraton Hotel here since it opened three days ago, according to DoD spokesman Marine Corps Maj. Ben Owens.

"The first family member arrived at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning," Owens noted. "They're met at the entrance and escorted upstairs where they're interviewed to find out what their concerns and needs are. We ensure they know what the status of their missing loved one is and provide them with the newest information we have. Currently, we have families here looking for more than 60 missing loved ones.

"Family members and loved ones who need help can get it from us," he said. The hotel address is 1800 Jefferson Davis Highway in the Crystal City area of Arlington. The center's toll free telephone number is 800-487-3450. Phone numbers for each military service are: Army, 800-833-6622; Navy and Marine Corps, 877-663-6772; and Air Force, 800- 253-9276. The assistance center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We received more than 75 calls today before noon," said Al Gordon, a shift leader in the "call in center." "Forty-five of them were offering to volunteer, but we've had so many calls that we have started turning them away unless they have some special skills." In addition to answering questions for family members, the call in center is compiling information about missing persons, family members and loved ones to help officials notify the next of kin when missing persons are found, he added.

Depending on the family members' and loved ones' needs, the center provides such resources and services as counseling, chaplains, benefits, compensation, transportation, and financial, legal and lodging assistance. Family members are coupled with chaplains and counselors and taken to rooms for their private discussions. Forty rooms are available at the Sheraton, and other hotels in the area have offered rooms to handle the overflow.

"Emphasis is placed on getting family members and loved ones away from others so they can have their discussions in private," Owens noted.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army are also helping at the center.

"We also have 'stress and love dogs' provided by Therapy Dogs International, Inc.," Owens said. "We asked for the therapy dogs because a family said it would be helpful if we had them."

The center's director, Army Lt. Gen. John A. Van Alstyne, conducts two briefings a day to keep family members abreast of the latest information and to answer their questions. Van Alstyne is deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.

As an example of some of the things the center does, Owens said a family member said he didn't know if his brother aboard a ship in the Pacific had been contacted. "The general let the Navy know of the concern and they responded immediately. His brother is either here or is on his way," he added.

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