I watched for many hours as the storm of condemnation swiftly followed the emergence of the irrefutable evidence of the DIShonoring of our Fallen, and their families. I found most of it on the Wisconsin National Guard FaceBook page.
When it became obvious to the WI NG that this issue was not going to go away, they issued a short statement:
'May have'???????? Hell no! No 'may have' about it, despite one of the NCO's trying to excuse the INexcusable. For the Gold Star Families (and other Military members and their families - and those of us who love them) the pain ran deep as the condemnation continued unabated.
I refuse to share the disgusting, offensive pictures here, but I have been given permission to share some of the Gold Star Families' responses.
THEY are not buying any milque toast excuses for what is obvious disrespect, dishonor in that most solemn and sacred duty of laying our Fallen to rest. The Gold Star Families - and any Military I know - are not accepting one of the NCO's feeble attempt to explain away the deeply wounding, and irreparable actions laid bare right across the internet. This is not acceptable to any of the Gold Stars, and rightly so.:
You will know I had a few choice words for him.
Brian Jopek, Gold Star dad of Fallen Hero SGT Ryan Jopek (and himself a retired SSG) wrote the following in a Gold Star Family group:
Since you're bound to see this, please know the Wisconsin Army Guard is looking into this whole thing as apparently, one of those involved is a member. They were at class to learn how to be Honor Guard and supposedly, this photo was taken as a way to let off steam since its pretty stressful. However, a Wisconsin Army Guard Soldier also posted a pic of her in her blues and posting it was too cold for a funeral. Her NCO had said in response to all this that she had joined the Honor Guard because she understood the commitment and all that. Again, please know the Wisconsin Guard and I'm sure the different states the other troops belong to will be looking into the matter.
"With regard to the photo of the troops at PEC for Honor Guard and other photos of your troop. First off, as a retired NCO myself, I'm pretty disappointed in your defending what happened. Look, I get the whole 'needing to let off steam' thing. That detail is stressful. But you DON'T do it with a US flag draped casket. And then you DON'T go posting 'We put the FUN in funeral' in your blues and you DON'T bitch on social media about how it's too cold for a funeral. THAT, sarn't, is anything BUT selfless. I have the utmost respect for Honor Guard personnel. My son, Ryan David Jopek, was a cav scout who was KIA in Iraq two years after I was there myself. This behavior is NOT acceptable. I'm really very sorry you have apparently no comprehension of the shit storm your troop and her cohorts cooked up with their little stunt and her subsequent postings on social media as a member of an Honor Guard.
Now, I don't know what, if anything, you and your chain intend to do about this. Let's hope that whatever is done your troop truly understands the severity of the whole thing and can somehow grasp the importance of being part of such an esteemed detail.
If she doesn't, then you have failed her as her NCO.
Brian Jopek, SSG (retired)
Father of Ryan David Jopek
32nd Brigade Combat Team, WIARNG
KIA outside Tikrit, Iraq
2 August, 2006"
" ...Let's hope that whatever is done your troop truly understands the severity of the whole thing and can somehow grasp the importance of being part of such an esteemed detail. ..."
Brian was not the only Gold Star who was distressed, offended by this apparent misunderstanding by these morons as to just how wrong their actions were.
Karin Windorski Cruz Please feel free to pass this letter on to[...] the soldier in question.
Are you the owner of the "traaww" Instagram account (screen shot attached)? If so, please let me introduce myself.
My Name is Karin Windorski. I am the widow of CW3 Philip Windorski, Jr. I became a Gold Star Widow when my beloved gave his life on the battlefield in Iraq on 25 January 2009. He spent just over 17 years in the Army, serving our country with HONOR, DIGNITY and RESPECT. I met Phil at Fort Hood when we were both stationed there. (Yes, I too have worn the uniform of our United States Army.) Together we built a life and a family.
On a very frigid February morning, hundreds gathered outside in BITTER BELOW FREEZING TEMPERATURES in upstate Minnesota as the Minnesota National Guard Honor Guard soldiers stood proudly by my husband's casket. (I could tell they weren't having any FUN at this FUNeral. Maybe we should have asked for you and your team to perform the duties instead?)
The Honor Guard soldiers took the time to show my beloved the respect HE EARNED during his almost two decades worth of selfless service to our county. Those same soldiers carefully folded the flag that just moments before was draped over the casket that held all that physically remained of my beloved and presented that sacred symbol to me, passing on the respect I HAD EARNED by standing by my husband's side for 11-1/2 years. And then those same soldiers presented our three children each with their very own folded flag and showed them the respect THEY HAD EARNED by giving up their dreams of having their father there at their baseball games, soccer games, high school graduations, weddings, birth of their own children, etc... (And just so you know, not one of those Honor Guard soldiers "jacked up" our flags simply because they had to perform their duties in the dead of winter. Out of all five flags presented to me, my children, and my mother-in-law that day, not one bit of red was showing.)
Ms. Harrison, it is one thing to be so incredibly disrespectful to our heroes and their families, but to do it WHILE IN UNIFORM and to post it on the Internet is UNCONSCIONABLE, UNETHICAL, INDEFENSIBLE and WRONG! Your actions are a disgrace to yourself, your unit, the Wisconsin National Guard and to the United States Army. I pray that this grievous error in judgement will be the last you will have when it comes to dishonoring our country's fallen heroes and their families.
I truly hope that this message speaks to your heart. And I hope that you will see how much hurt you have caused to many as your pictures are now floating all over Facebook and they will not be going away anytime soon. Out of respect for all of the good and honorable soldiers who wear the uniform for the right reasons, please consider whether or not you can learn how to respect what it means to be on the Honor Guard and what it means to be a United States Soldier. If not, I implore you, leave the military ASAP and pursue your goals and dreams in the civilian sector.
Mrs Windorski is not the only Gold Star Widow to share her sorrow.
Deborah Iverson May, Gold Star Widow of SSG Donald May Jr, told me this:
Letting off steam is not a good excuse for the widows... That woman has no respect for the role she has in the military...We don't find any of the photos at all amusing. I guess that comes from our angst and sadness at understanding she's joking about someone's husband and soulmate, or daddy, or someone's child.
I think to even function properly in the military you have to have a sense of pride at what you are doing. That girl doesn't belong in that role and it's quite possible she shouldn't be in the military.
Nothing takes away the pain but BOY, you can add to it! And that girl sure did!
The Gold Star community was - understandingly - unanimous in their outrage..
Mickey Bryant, Gold Star Mom of SSG Jason Arnette, shared her thoughts with me:
Wow and not in a good way. How can people be so disrespectful to our fallen heroes, especially those to wear our military uniforms. It's a good thing I'm not standing closer..
This is who they have totally disrespected and so many more like my son.
What they all deserve is an Article 15 Commanding Officer's Non-Judicial Punishment with maximum sanctions under that article. Then if they do the same or something similar, a Court Martial.
Letting off steam, my ass. NEVER is there a proper time for this behavior. Make no difference if it was an empty casket. It is still representing a Family and a Fallen Hero who stood in worst condition than the cold so she could be an idiot of disrespect.
Military members are held to high standards, this is an act of foolishness and lack of pride for what and whom they represent and it is just not about the pictures but about how they carry themselves on a day to day basis, it should and must be addressed...
What matters? Our Fallen Military members matter, and should NEVER be disrespected in this manner. Once this NO LONGER MATTERS, is when this country has big issues!What matters? Our Fallen Military members matter, and should NEVER be disrespected in this manner. Once this NO LONGER MATTERS, is when this country has big issues!
This was just sent to me, and it is the response from Holly at Arlington (who is well known to many of our Gold Star Families):
I've looked on the calendar (5 at work here) and nowhere do I see it is officially " National Nothing is SACRED Week"..So here's to putting an end to the notion that anything done in a uniform is okey dokey as long as you can find someone else to grin at it. My dad used to say, "Don't say anything you don't want to read in the POST"... same goes for lifting your iphone and posting in the ether.. it IS in the Post then. I've seen enough in 2 days to lose all feeling in my face, but I have a clarity to share.
Howzabout zero tolerance for acting a fool while in any class of uniform,.. and for the folks who see the fault in the outting, not in the deed.-- Howzabout a thresh-hold for behavior that anything done in uniform (photographed or not) rest on this criteria alone..--- Would you be proud to be holding a framed copy of the image of that moment ? Would you be equally proud in your uniform to hand it to your CO/Commander/Chief of your Branch or Commander in Chief? Would you be proud to take it to the WALL, Iwo, KWM, WWII Memorial, or stand central in 60 holding it at Arlington? If the answer is no to any of those things,.. it's likely that what's initially wrong with the picture is that there is a person in it who isn't proud of that uniform, and should be relieved of it.
As the hours marched on yesterday, and as more became aware of these pictures, many more Military members and their families spoke up.Military Mom Leah Petrilli said this:
As the mother of a deployed Marine I am completely outraged by the actions and lame explanations of these individuals. They are not worthy to serve in our military. Kick them all out. Disgraceful.
They [Chain of Command] better do something severe to placate the Gold Star Families. And quickly.
An Army wife and veteran advocate said this - and yes, I am quoting her directly:
This is what happens when HONOR is no longer a teaching code. They get rid of the soldiers who learned honor, respect, and love of country, and soon it will be a military of whiny titty babies...
[I asked her: do you think honor, respect and love of country can be taught? To the Troops? Surely, they should already have that? ]
Not always. If it is...it is buried, and the Drill Sgt will 'find' it. In basic training, they are taught a different way. Not every soldier joins because of love of country. But after Basic they better.
The Veterans spoke out loudly with their comments raging from hope that they never had these morons as their Honor Guard if they had been killed in action, to suggestions as to what they believe the punishment should be. Those 'behavior corrections' ranged from specific physical damage being rained down upon the offenders, 'to wall to wall counseling, ' to Dishonorable Discharge.
One USN Veteran said this:
Seriously, FIX YOURSELVES!!! This is unacceptable at the BEST of times and shouldn't be considered at the worst. If you cannot instill a better moral compass in your soldiers then they and you need to seek life elsewhere.
That was his public comment, and his private comments to me? Yes, I have his permission to quote directly:
Ever notice this keeps coming up with these subpar jackasses?.....I guess you can take the rat out the hood but not the hood out the rat...just because affirmative action and lowered standards ensures them a job among us, we cant make them be worth a shit.
And on my ship, [...] and many many more......we would have had out attitude changed for us if we even THOUGHT about this bullshit.
His comments were certainly representative of the Veteran community's highly vocal condemnation of the ongoing disrespect by members of our Military who, above ALL, should understand how they are expected to behave once they don the US Military uniform, and swear an oath to Serve.
As always, the Veterans over at This Ain't Hell... had much to say, as they join the universal discussion about this latest public airing of what is going on within our Military these days.
Bottom line is that this behavior, whether made public or not, is NOT ACCEPTABLE. It has been pointed out that it is not just the Wisconsin National Guard that is represented by these latest pictures. As has been demanded above, swift action needs to be taken - across the different branches of our Military - to address this mindset which seems to be like a virus pervasive in the Military. This must be checked.
There are some who attempt to excuse these latest revelations as a momentary lapse in judgement by people doing stupid things because they are too young to know better. I do not accept that. Yes, we have all done stupid crap in our youth. But luckily for most of us, pictures of our actions are not surfacing on the internet - which does last forever.
FACT: The Gold Star Families' Sacrifice and grief is also forever, and they deserve so much better.
Thus far, more than 18 hours after these pictures spread like wildfire across social media, no further public statement has been issued by the Wisconsin National Guard.
There was this headline from about 7.pm CST:
That is certainly a good start. However, as is evident by the sampling of reactions shared above, severe corrective actions MUST be taken to cut out this perception of the acceptance of inappropriate behavior by those who cannot show all due respect and HONOR to our Fallen Heroes.
Honor is one of the bedrocks within all our Military. Day in, day out, the thousands of our Military men and women act with integrity and honor. Time for WI NG to clean house.