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Army Wife Claims Cruel Hoax

An Army honor guard carries the coffin of Sgt. Ernest Bucklew during a joint graveside service with Bucklew's mother, Mary Ellen Bucklew, at Beaver Falls Cemetery, Saturday Nov. 8, 2003 in Beaver Falls, Pa. Bucklew, 33, was among 16 U.S. soldiers killed when a missile downed their helicopter in Iraq, Nov. 2. Bucklew was traveling home to attend his mother's funeral when the helicopter was shot down.
Military police are investigating a cruel hoax in which a man wearing an Army dress uniform falsely told the wife of a soldier that her husband had been killed in Iraq.

Investigators are trying to determine why the man delivered the false death notice and whether he was a soldier or a civilian wearing a military uniform.

"We're taking it extremely seriously. Whatever motivation was behind it, it was a sick thing to do," said Fort Stewart spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone.

Last month, 19,000 soldiers from the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division deployed for their second tour of duty in Iraq. At least eight division soldiers have been killed since then.

Fort Stewart officials would not identify the Army wife who reported to military police that a man posing as a casualty assistance officer came to her door Feb. 10.

"Right off the bat, she noticed some things were not right," Whetstone said. "The individual's uniform wasn't correct - there were no markings or name tags. Plus, the person was alone, and she knew one person does not make (death) notifications."

Whetstone said no similar hoaxes have been reported.

When the 3rd Infantry first deployed to Iraq for the 2003 invasion, some Fort Stewart families reported receiving phone calls from pranksters saying their soldiers had been killed.

This time around, troops and their spouses got pre-deployment briefings that included detailed explanations of how death notices work. Two soldiers, including a chaplain, in dress uniform always arrive to tell the family in person. The Army never makes notifications over the telephone.

Fort Stewart spouses have been spreading news of the latest hoax, said Army wife Michelle Dombrowski, who received an e-mail more than a week ago reporting the incident.

"I can't believe that someone would do that," said Dombrowski, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Joe Dombrowski, is deployed with the 3rd Infantry. "I know the protocol, though."

Military police described the suspected hoaxer as being 6-feet, 1-inch tall and about 180 pounds with black or brown hair and a pale complexion. He was reported to be driving a blue or green pickup truck with chrome wheels, oversized tires and a Georgia license plate.

By Russ Bynum