Posted on February 19, 2014 at 12:58 PM
MADISON, Wis. — A group photograph showing soldiers clowning around an empty, flag-draped casket has sparked a furor on Facebook, in military chat rooms and other social media where people say it's disrespectful of veterans and those killed in action.
The Wisconsin National Guard responded Tuesday by announcing that it had suspended the soldier who apparently posted the photograph online from her honor guard duties. The photograph was taken at a guard training facility in Arkansas and included soldiers from other units.
The photo that shows a team smiling around a flag-draped casket with the caption, "We put the FUN in funeral."
Maj. Paul Rickert, a Guard spokesman, said public affairs staff learned of the photo late Monday.
"The National Guard takes the responsibility for our fallen soldiers and veterans very seriously, and we expect soldiers to handle it with professionalism and honor," Rickert said.
The photo was taken with an empty casket at a training facility in Arkansas, Rickert said. A second photo has drawn attention from the same social media account, depicting the female soldier complaining about the cold weather in Wisconsin and an upcoming outdoor funeral.
Spc. Terry Harrison, who posted the photo on Instagram, was "indefinitely suspended," Rickert said. She is a member of the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment based here. Attempts to reach Harrison by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Rickert said the Guard does not prohibit soldiers from posting on social media but has rules that members must "perform professionally and not dishonor the military."
By Tuesday morning, hundreds of people had posted on the Wisconsin National Guard Facebook page, many reposting the photo and expressing disgust. The Instagram account has since been closed.
Judy Vincent of Poteau, Okla., said she saw the picture when a friend reposted it on Facebook.
"It was like somebody slapped me in the face. I've never in my life seen such disrespect for the fallen or the families," said Vincent, whose son died in Iraq in 2004.
Marine Cpl. Scott Vincent was killed near Fallujah by a suicide bomber. His mother said Vincent's friends served as his honor guard and she has no doubt that he was treated with respect. But she knows the photograph has raised doubts among other families.
"It raises questions in your mind," Judy Vincent said. "What did they think of me and was my loved one treated with disrespect?"
Vincent was among the more than 900 people to post comments on the Wisconsin National Guard's Facebook page, most of them asking for Harrison and the other soldiers to be disciplined.
A decision was made to leave the information online and allow anyone to vent, Rickert said. Special affairs staff is monitoring the page for threats and offensive language.
"The specialist involved has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation," he said.Harrison, a full-time member of the National Guard, has been suspended from Wisconsin's honor guard and assigned to other duties while an investigation is ongoing.
"She has received death threats to her and her family," Rickert said. Wisconsin officials also have notified the National Guard Bureau because the other soldiers in the photograph were from other units.
The National Guard Bureau did not immediately return a message left for comment.
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, issued a written statement about the "controversial and distasteful" photos Tuesday.
"We expect all of our soldiers and airmen to live by a core set of values, in word and deed," Dunbar 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."
Contributing: The Associated Press; Nick Penzenstadler also reports for The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent