2nd National Guard soldier suspended over casket photo scandal
WASHINGTON — A Wisconsin National Guard member who publicly defended a subordinate who posted controversial photos and comments about military funerals on the Internet, has been suspended from his regular duties pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation into the matter, according to Maj. Paul Rickert, the director of public affairs for the Wisconsin Guard.
The photos and comments which ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media and caused the Wisconsin National Guard and the Army National Guard to initiate separate investigations into the scandal, appeared on the Instagram page of Spc. Terry Harrison, a member of the Madison-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment.
One photo shows a group of soldiers in Army Combat Uniforms, some posing disrespectfully around a flag-draped training casket, along with a caption that reads, ‘‘We put the FUN in funeral — your fearless honor guard from various states.” The other photo shows Harrison in a car, and the comment below it reads, “It’s so damn cold out. Why have a funeral outside!? Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag,” suggesting that the family of a fallen servicemember would receive an unprofessionally presented American flag during the ceremony because of the poor weather.
The Wisconsin Guard announced Tuesday that Harrison had been removed from the military funeral detail indefinitely.
Rickert said Wednesday that Sgt. Luis Jimenez has also been suspended from funeral honors duties because of comments he made on Facebook after Harrison was criticized.
“[Harrison] isn’t disrespecting anyone … It’s actually a selfless commitment she has made. These [military funeral] practice sessions are very long. It’s good to let loose a little when your job constantly asked you to be serious,” Jimenez wrote in a Facebook post, which has since been removed.
Rickert told Stars and Stripes that the angry calls his office received after the scandal broke also contributed to the decision to suspend Jimenez.
“We felt [the suspension] was prudent based on [Jimenez’s] comments online and also the phone calls that we were receiving … We have received phone calls from individuals expressing their outrage and the emotional impact that they have received from the photos and the comments,” Rickert said. “Some of those phone calls have been very emotionally charged. This has definitely had an impact on the military community and the friends and families of fallen soldiers and veterans, and we take that very seriously.”
Some Gold Star Mothers whose children were killed in action have taken to social media to express their anger over the images.
“We have reached out to Gold Star families and Gold Star Mothers to let them know that we take this extremely seriously, that we too were outraged, and that we expect the members of our funeral honors team to act in a professional and honorable manner, and that we do not condone or excuse the behavior,” Rickert said.
Rickert said one purpose of the investigation is to determine if other members of the unit have been acting inappropriately.
“The funeral honors team will be looked at to ensure that these are the actions of an individual and not a larger problem,” he said. “Once the investigation is complete, there will be swift and appropriate action.”
Stars and Stripes was unable to contact Harrison or Jimenez for comment.