LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (CBS Houston) – The Air Force has launched an investigation after a Facebook photo of 15 airmen from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, shows them posing with an open casket featuring another airman with a noose around his neck and chains across his body.
The Facebook photo depicts airmen representing the 345th Training Squadron at Fort Lee,Va., surrounding a kind of casket used to carry war dead home to the U.S. The photo has offended military personnel and family, serving as another recent black-eye in sensitivity for how to handle the families of fallen troops.
The Aug. 23 photo has the phrase, “Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt …. Sucks 2 Be U,” written under it and the logo of “All American Port Dawgs” appearing in the upper left hand corner, signifying a nickname for an aerial port unit from the early 1990s, according to the Army Times. The photo was emailed to the Air Force Times from Staff Sgt. Elias Bonilla, who had received the picture — which appeared on Facebook in early October — from a former soldier. An investigation was launched when the Air Force Times forwarded the photo to Air Education and Training Command.
“We take this matter seriously. [Air Education and Training Command] has initiated a commander directed investigation,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the Air Force Times in a statement. “Such behavior is not consistent with our core values, and it is not representative of the Airmen I know. It saddens me that this may cause additional grief to the families of our fallen warriors.”
The investigation of the photo comes just a week after the Washington Post discovered that the remains of hundreds of dead soldiers were incinerated by Air Force officials at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and sent to be dumped in a Virginia landfill between 2004 and 2008.
The details surrounding the circumstances of the photo and the investigation that comes as a result of it are scarce as the investigation is ongoing. AETC spokesman David Smith indicated to the Army Times that the investigation, which is being overseen by the commander of the 37th Training Group at Lackland, should last between one to two weeks. Messages left by CBS Houston for Smith were not immediately returned.
The photo features everyday hand and arm signals used by the tech officers and cargo loaders, often used due to the noisy work environments present during the transfers of fallen service members. The majority of the airmen in the photo are holding their arms up to form an “X,” meaning “stop” on the cargo lines, also meaning “cargo load secured.”
With this investigation coupled with the Dover revelations, questions remain as to the level of dignity and respect that’s being taken in regard to the transfer of the remains of fatally-wounded soldiers.
“I cannot understand the behaviors of the United States Air Force,” Bonilla wrote in the email to the Air Force Times. “I refuse to accept that military personnel could be so far removed from their own identity as a military unit to permit such disgraceful conduct.”