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Soldiers suspended in funeral guard photo flap; investigation launched

Feb. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
This photo of soldiers posing comically alongside a flag-draped casket has gone viral and the Wisconsin National Guard is investigating.
This photo of soldiers posing comically alongside a flag-draped casket has gone viral and the Wisconsin National Guard is investigating. (Instagram photo)
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The Wisconsin National Guard has suspended a soldier from a funeral honors detail over two photos that sparked outrage and shock after the pictures were posted to social media.

One image shows a group of soldiers — some grinning, some striking comic poses — beside a casket draped in the American flag. The accompanying caption said, “We put the FUN in funeral your fearless honor guard from various states.”

The other, posted on Instagram, is a selfie of a woman who appears to be in an honor guard accompanied a caption that reads: “It’s so damn cold out...WHY have a funeral outside! Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag...”

Spc. Terry Harrison, member of the Wisconsin Guard’s funeral honor guard team, was suspended Tuesday pending the outcome of the organization’s investigation, said Maj. Paul Rickert, Wisconsin National Guard’s director of public affairs. Harrison is a member of the Madison, Wis.-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment.

Four members of the New York National Guard were also suspended from funeral duties after allegedly posing in the photograph, the state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs said Feb. 20, according to the Times Union. The soldiers’ identities were being withheld because an investigation was in progress, said Eric Durr, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Military Affairs.

The photo of the soldiers with the casket was taken at the National Guard Professional Education Center in Little Rock, Ark., Rickert said, which suggests the casket was used for training purposes and was empty.

“We expect all of our Soldiers and Airmen to live by a core set of values, in word and deed,” Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, the Wisconsin adjutant general said in a news release. “I was appalled by the offensive photos and comments that appeared on this Soldier’s social media site regarding her duties as a funeral honor guard member.”

Dunbar ordered an investigation into the matter.

Troops took to Facebook to rail against the two shots.

“As the [noncommissioned officer in charge] for the honor guard of my unit on the active duty side, I am completely disgusted to see this crap,” said Miguel Riley, a soldier from Fort Riley, Kan., in a Facebook comment about the casket photo.

Others called for stern punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the soldiers and their superiors.

“I am a Gold Star Mother, and this is a disgrace to the fallen and their families,” said Judy Vincent in another comment. “All of them need to be brought up on charges, along with who-ever is in charge of them. This shows nothing but poor leadership, and a total disrespect for the uniform they wear.”

WISN 12 News reports the matter stems from a private Instagram account, since deleted. Harrison reportedly told the channel she has been receiving death threats after they went viral. Army Times has attempted to contact the woman via email, but has not yet received a response.

Rickert said the state Guard is taking measures to protect Harrison.

Rickert said that while the photos and comments do not portray any misconduct during the performance of actual military funeral honors, he understands that their content is upsetting to many. The Wisconsin Guard expects all soldiers who carry out this detail to handle it with professionalism and honor, he said.

“A military funeral is the final show of respect for our veterans and their families, and we take that solemn duty very seriously,” Rickert said in a news release. “The very name ‘military funeral honors’ underscores the importance we ascribe — both as the military and society at large — to such solemn occasions. These photos and comments do not appear to align with those values.”

The Guard initially left the photo online so that people could vent their anger over it, Rickert told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It no longer appears on the Facebook page, but people continued to comment on the announcement of the investigation.

“Never mess with pissed off vets,” said Emily Judith, of Clemson, S.C., in a Facebook comment.

This is the second incident in less than a week in which inappropriate photos of service members have circulated via social media. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cherish Byers is the subject of an investigation, the Air Force announced Friday, after a three-year-old photo of her tongue-kissing a Prisoner of War-Missing in Action symbol went viral.

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