Thomas A. Wren – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

No. 1161-05
November 7, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Wren, 44, of Lorton, Virginia, died in Tallil, Iraq, on November 5, 2005, when a civilian vehicle pulled in front of his HMMWV causing it to roll-over.  Wren was an Army Reservist assigned to the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq in Tallil, Iraq.

A Fairfax County, Virgijnia, father of five has been killed in Iraq in a humvee accident.

The Pentagon says 44-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wren of Lorton was one of four occupants in the humvee when it rolled over during non-combat-related activities. Family members say he'll be buried Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

His death is one of the highest ranking casualties in the war so far. He's one of only 12 Lieutenant Colonels killed in Iraq.

Family members tell The Washington Post that Wren had recently married but never got to live with his new wife Holly Wren. They married in July, two months after their son, Tyler, was born.

Wren also had four children from a previous marriage.

Wren was on his third tour of duty, also serving in Afghanistan.

He had been recently promoted to a job that involved training the Iraqi military, rather than combat missions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Courtesy of the Washington Post

A Fairfax County father of five was killed in Iraq last week when the Humvee he was in crashed, becoming one of the highest-ranking casualties in the war so far, Army officials said yesterday.

Lieuteanat Colonel Thomas A. Wren, 44, of Lorton died Saturday in Tallil, southeast of Baghdad, when a civilian vehicle pulled in front of the Humvee, causing it to roll down an embankment. Wren, the recipient of a Bronze Star for service in Bosnia, was one of only 12 lieutenant colonels killed in Iraq.


Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wren died after his Humvee crashed. (Family Photo – Family Photo)

Wren was the second Virginia soldier reported killed there in two days.

Staff Sergeant Jason A. Fegler, 24, of Virginia Beach died Friday in Baghdad during combat under circumstances that are being investigated as a potential friendly-fire incident. Fegler, a member of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, grew up in Harrisburg, Nebraska., and was the father of a 2-year-old boy.

Family members said Wren had recently met the love of his life, Holly Wren, whom he married July 4, two months after their son, Tyler, was born.

“Everyone says they just don't remember either of them being so happy,” said Holly's mother, Audrey Thomasson of White Stone, Va. “She keeps saying he had such a wonderful, big heart.”

“They never even lived together,” Thomasson said, adding that her daughter was asleep in the next room with one of her husband's shirts. “She has not spent one married day with him.”

Wren also had four children from a previous marriage.

A longtime reservist who had also seen combat in Afghanistan, Wren was on his third tour of duty and had recently been promoted to a job that involved training Iraqi military rather than combat missions, said his younger brother, Tim Puckett of Tampa.

“We really weren't that worried this time,” he said.

Wren came from a family of veterans. His father served in Vietnam, and his grandfather was in World War II and the Korean War. His own interest in the Army dated to when he was a boy in elementary school, Puckett said.

“He was GI Joe from the word go,” he said. “For Halloween, he was GI Joe. For Christmas. Any time he could dress up, he would.”

In the tiny town of Harrisburg, friends and neighbors were reeling at the news of Fegler's death.

Like Wren, Fegler had been interested in the military since boyhood. “When he was very small, at recess, he and the boys would play at soldiers,” said Sarah Lease, a classmate who had known him since first grade. “He loved serving his country. He talked about it all the time.”

Fegler lived in Virginia Beach with his wife, Shianne, who is in the Navy, and their 2-year-old son, Aiden.

Tall, blond and lanky, he played basketball and football at Banner County High School, where the graduating class had 17 people. After high school, he spent four years in the Marines, and he enlisted in the Army this year, Lease said. He hoped to join the Special Forces.

Lease said she and her classmates visited Fegler's mother and stepfather Monday night to offer condolences. She said his death has touched everyone in Harrisburg, population 75.

“It's really made the war real,” she said. “Until something like this happens, it doesn't seem like it's really there. In a community that's so small and everyone knows everyone, it's really opened people's eyes.”

Jan Wiseman, whose son John Harsh was a close friend of Fegler's, recalled his close friendships. “There is a pack of six to eight boys that ran with each other all the time who have stayed very, very close,” she said, adding that her son, a Marine, was on his way back to Harrisburg after hearing about Fegler's death. “They were brothers through and through, and that's how he felt about the military, too.”

Puckett said that Wren was excited about his new posting in Iraq. “He felt that he was doing great work, helping to free the Iraqi people,” he said.

Wren will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, his brother said. No funeral arrangements have been made for Feglel.

2 November 2006:

It's the military's most solemn duty: caring for the families of soldiers killed in battle. But, as WTOV9 discovered, too many war widows feel like they've been wronged by the system that is supposed to protect them.

From the burial process to collecting money from the military and other agencies, Iraq war widow Holly Wren faced a challenge at every turn.

“There was no healing time. I wasn't able to grieve at all,” she said. “It's hard to shuffle from office to office after you deal with something like this.”

Wren's ordeal started at the sacred place where her beloved husband, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wren, was buried. She says the date on his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery is wrong, and she does not believe he was buried with all of the medals he earned.

Then she had to go to battle for her benefits. Her housing allowance was half of what she was owed. She waited longer that she was supposed to for her husband's retirement money and death benefit. She also had to hire a lawyer and go to court so their infant son, Tyler, could be a beneficiary.

She said, “The paperwork sat on someone's desk for months, the benefits were not explained properly.”

Wren's assigned casualty officer tried to help untangle the bureaucracy, but he didn't know all of the benefits she should receive and the two of them felt like they were cobbling information together. Other people she encountered in the system were downright rude.

“I was treated like a nuisance at times,” she said, “We're just a job to them, and it's so much more than that.”

Members of Congress have been hearing similar complaints from widows like Holly Wren for years. California Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher is on the committee that recently ordered the Government Accountability Office to investigate. It found that while most survivors do get the benefits owed to them, there are system-wide problems that lead to confusion and frustration.

Tauscher said the country owes its troops and their families much more.

“That is a heinous bureaucratic tangle,” she said. “I believe each of these families should have a benefits advocate cutting through the red tape and working this for them. That is the least we can do.”

The Department of Defense is trying to make improvements, and will be instituting new casualty assistance policies that include more training for casualty officers. The Army has set up a call center and the Marine Corps has assigned long term case workers to help survivors. DOD issued a statement that reads in part, “Each and every situation and family member concern is taken very seriously and reviewed with a view towards fixing the problem…”

Holly Wren has now joined other widows lobbying for a centralized, one stop, casualty office to help survivors. She's hoping that by sharing her story, she'll inspire change, and other widows won't have to go through the same difficulty.

She said, “I just want them to make the process better, because unfortunately there are more of us to come.”

If your loved one has been killed in battle, the last thing you may want to deal with is the military's massive bureaucracy. But it is necessary to deal with several government agencies in order to collect the benefits owed to you. If you need help navigating the system, there are a number of groups that work for survivors. Following are some links that may be of use:

Gold Star Wives of America

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors 

National Association of County Veterans Service Officers

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