Yesterday, a story aired on TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about National Guardsman Teresa Harrison’s photos going viral on Facebook and the internet. In short, this soldier posted a selfie with the comment “It’s so damn cold…WHY have a funeral outside!? Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag…”
A second photo was also posted, and of the two most feel it is the more disturbing. Actually, the questions is which is more upsetting, the photo or the attached comment, “We put the FUN in funeral…your fearless honor guard from various states…”
Here are the two photos –
Numerous Facebook pages and internet sites reposted the photos, and the reaction was overwhelming. While most were appalled and sickened, one poster had this to say,
As of this morning, the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs released a statement through their website, stating in part "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. "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."
After following the story for hours, and lots of discussion with a remarkable group of women I am honored to call my sisters, I struggled with how to respond. In the end, I decided on an open letter to Teresa Harrison, the soldier who posted the photos, Luis Jimenez, her defender and self-described superior and Major General Donald P. Dunbar.
Dear Teresa Harrison, Luis Jimenez and Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar,
I am addressing all three of you, as each of you holds a level of responsibility for the recent dishonorable actions of Ms. Harrison and some of her teammates.
First, Ms. Harrison. I understand you are facing serious repercussions due to the internet posting of a few of your Instagram account pictures. While I understand you may not want to comment publicly, I would like to offer a few words for you to contemplate.
I am a Gold Star Mother. I received one of those folded flags in a deeply moving and solemn ceremony. The idea that the members of that squad, though displaying exemplary behavior at the services, also may have at any time displayed the type of behavior you did offends me on levels I can scarcely describe. I would never have believed those who had the honor of performing this sacred duty would hold such a cavalier attitude.
Because of you I find myself thinking back, trying to remember and picture the faces I barely registered at the time. Did someone roll their eyes before they got out of the vehicle to line up next to my son’s casket? Surely, those attending the services of a soldier Killed In Action would not even be aware of their own physical discomfort at such a moment? Because of you, these thoughts entered my head.
I am appalled that someone honored with this duty would have such little regard for the feelings of those for whom you are performing this most solemn act. When you put on that uniform and take on that role, you are not an individual; you are a representative of all those who have worn that uniform before you, of the United States military and the dead you are there to honor. The lapse in judgement you displayed when you took those photos is surpassed only by your decision to post them with such callous and unprofessional comments. You may have thought you were posting on a private Instagram account, but again, the lack of judgement shown by your actions is simply mind blowing.
There is no credibility to the potential claim that this was a single lapse, an aberration in otherwise exemplary behavior. These two photos, and their attendant comments are seperated in space and time, showing a pattern. In other words, a character trait. You have shamed yourself, your unit and your entire Chain of Command.
Next, Mr. Jimenez. A good NCO, and I am assuming your rank, understands the necessity of leading by example. While your defense of your soldier may be understood in the civilian world as the typical coddling of inappropriate behavior expected of those without a moral compass, it is simply baffling in one who is charged with leading other soldiers. You further defended the actions of the team as mere levity, calling it “…good to let loose a little. When your job constantly asked you to be serious (sic)”.
As the mother of a soldier I am well acquainted with what is termed ‘gallows humor’. But the time for letting loose is off hours, away from your duties and not while in the uniform of the United States in front of a flag draped coffin. Based on your defense, it is understandable why one of your soldiers would think it is okay to post these pictures on the internet. The failing is as much yours as it is hers.
Finally, Maj. Gen. Dunbar. Just as the actions of Ms. Harrison are a reflection of the poor leadership of Mr. Jimenez, both of their actions and attitudes are a direct reflection on your Chain of Command. Achieving your rank takes a life time commitment to duty and honor. Upon assuming command you also took on responsibility for every soldier, and ultimately, their actions. The disgrace is as much yours as it is theirs.
This is nothing you are not aware of, I’m sure. But, in order to help impress upon your subordinates the seriousness of the situation, I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts of those who were in all probability not on the receiving end of the questionable care of these particular soldiers, but who nonetheless feel directly impacted.
From Tammy Eakes, Gold Star Mother of National Guard soldier Sgt. Lance Oliver Eakes, KIA April 18, 2008. "We donated the casket our Lance came home to us in to the NCNG to use when they practice. So this is tearing me up." She goes on to say, “I hate they have belittled the (G)uard this way.”
Another, Karen Meredith, Gold Star Mother of 1LT Ken Ballard KIA May 30, 2004 said, "They do not deserve the honor of serving our country. They certainly don't have the mindset to carry a flag covered coffin. I pray their families never have to accept a flag "on behalf of the President of the United States" and “we GS Moms are no wilting flowers. Do NOT disrespect our children, or there will be hell to pay!”
The most disturbing part of this entire situation is not the personal, and personnel ramifications. It is the black eye the National Guard and the military in general receive. As Gold Star Moms, we are very sensitive to the negative opinion some hold of the military. Our children gave their lives, willingly, for the ideals upon which you swore. When the military is shown in a bad light and justified charges of toxic leadership are leveled, we are outraged beyond all others.
Lisa McGregor, Gold Star Mother of Sgt. Michael Joe Beckerman, KIA December 31, 2010 expressed this sentiment perfectly. “…I had seen it all day too but only read some of it and went away thinking 'why are they always trying to make them look so bad' BUT in this case I must stand corrected they did it to themselves will get what they deserve and that really is a shame and a huge disgrace for our children our military leaders and our country as a whole”.
For myself and each of those quoted above, it was our only child who gave their life. Our sons gave their all and in doing so, gave all we had as well. For us, it does not get more personal. Dishonoring the principals for which they died is something we deal with from a too often callous, uncaring and oblivious general public. We simply will not stand for it when that dishonor comes at the hands of those who wear the uniform that absorbed the life blood of our child.
Maj. Gen. Dunbar, each of us stand ready to assist you in impressing upon your soldiers, and all who need to hear it, the reason this situation must be dealt with as swiftly and harshly as the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows.
In case you are looking for a counterpoint to the attitude and behaviors displayed by your soldiers, I direct your attention to a recent article in Stars and Stripes, “Death shapes life for teams that prepare bodies of fallen troops for final flight home”. The young soldiers profiled in this story are the image each of us envision when we think of those assigned this most difficult and sacred duty. Each one of us are working very hard to cling to this image in the hopes it overrides the picture painted by the actions of your soldiers.
Gold Star Mother of PFC. Andrew Meari, KIA November 1, 2010
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.