Monday, April 6, 2009

Gates signs policy change for Dover

Yes, it is true, and although it happened late last week, today is the first opportunity I have had to address this latest insanity. My regular readers know how I feel about this whole 'debate', and others who are closer to this fight, more directly affected by it, have had posts up. So rather than rehash my views, here's brief round up from the experts.

First up is Claire at Knee Deep in the Hooah!:

Gates signs policy change for Dover

Apr 2nd, 2009 | By Claire | Category: 1-Featured Article, Main Stream Media

I know this policy has been reviewed by Gold Star families, and they were divided on it. I respect Gold Star families immensely, but I absolutely can not agree that this policy protects military families at such a painful and vulnerable time.

My biggest contention (outside of the fact that I believe the media just doesn’t need to be involved in this process at all) is families are expected to make this decision shortly after learning about their soldier’s death. It is clinically accepted knowledge that shock and numbness is a primary response. Often people who receive news of a tragic death will report later that they stayed in “automatic pilot” mode for a period of time in order to “go through the motions” in the days to follow. They have arrangements to make, family members to call, and a lot of people calling them — usually they can barely find a minute to themselves during this time. Now, on top of all of that, they get to listen to the option of whether or not the media should be allowed to come — I am assuming that they will have to listen to quite a bit of reassuring that the policy will protect their soldier’s dignity, etc. Why? Why is this one more thing that a new Gold Star family should have to think about? Why? Can anyone answer that question?


We are being told how it will be done, but not person has given a very compelling argument as to WHY the damn ban was lifted to begin with....

Claire has more here. Go read, and then set KDIH as a bookmark. You will be regularly informed.

Then from CJ:

New Dover Media Policy

Recently, Secretary Gates released a new policy on allowing our media circus access to the solemn ceremonies of welcoming home our fallen troops at Dover. While I’ve always leaned more towards keeping the ban, I think this policy actually makes sense. It also raises a few questions that I’ll get to later in the post.

“The core of the policy,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “is built around the desires of the family members, and it will be the families that decide whether or not media have access to any of these dignified transfers.”

The policy that goes into effect next Monday, April 6, states that reporters would be provided basic information like the name of the service member and an arrival time.

A lot of thought has gone into whether or not this policy should be changed. Thankfully, Gates didn’t work alone and enlisted the help and advice of many family members of fallen troops. Among those, according to the Thunder Run blog, is my good friend Robert Stokely, whom I met and interviewed while writing his son’s story on They Have Names.

No special concessions will be made to account for weather. According to the policy, if the remains arrive during pitch black night sky, the filming conditions will be pitch black night sky. If it is raining, they will film in the rain. No special lighting or garish tents and covers will be provided or permitted while covering repatriation ceremonies.

If a family member approves of media coverage, the Dover Air Force Base public affairs office will post to its Web site that a dignified transfer is to take place. Media will also be able to apply for email subscription service that will provide the same information. Additionally, the military will provide families with copies of the photos or video taken of ceremonies at the family’s request.

The task force worked with various service-support organizations such as the Gold Star Mothers, Gold Star Wives, veterans groups and senior enlisted advisors to come up with the new policy. You can see the full policy letter at the Thunder Run, but here are some additional actions to be taken:...

Go read the rest of CJ's always articulate thoughts here.

David at The Thunder Run has this:

Gates Releases New Dover Media Policy

Our own Robert Stokely is on the advisory council that helped draft this new policy and I can see his hand in some of this, I hope he can comment on the policy. My thoughts to follow.....

Until then the press release:


Gates Signs Policy Change for Dignified Transfer Operations at Dover

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has approved a policy change that, under strictly delineated conditions, allows media filming of dignified transfer operations of fallen service members' remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

The new policy is slated to be implemented, April 6, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today. If immediate family members consent to media coverage, Whitman said, reporters would be provided the basic information on the servicemember and the expected time of arrival of the flight bearing the remains.

"The core of the policy," Whitman said, "is built around the desires of the family members, and it will be the families that decide whether or not media have access to any of these dignified transfers."

Dover's Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs is the Defense Department's largest joint-service mortuary facility, and the only one in the continental United States. Dover also is the U.S. military's largest air terminal. Media photography or filming of dignified transfers at Dover was prohibited under the previous policy....

Read the rest of that one here. BUT an absolute MUST READ is another post up at The Thunder Run:
From the Congressional Record.


Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to one of our fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our Nation in Iraq, and to share a letter I recently received from his father, Robert Stokely. Robert's letter relates to a Department of Defense policy that directly affected his family, and most especially, Mr. Speaker, his son.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to read this letter, as I feel it is necessary for this body to fully understand this issue in order to protect the dignity of our troops. Robert Stokely is from Newnan, Georgia, my wife's hometown. And of course I represented that area and am very proud of the folks in Newnan.

Mr. Robert Stokely writes:

``I was alarmed at the question asked by Ed Henry at President Obama's address to the Nation on Monday, February 9, 2009, i.e., allowing media access and cameras at Dover Air Force Base where fallen military personnel arrive on their final trip home to an honorable rest. I am also alarmed by an AP news article that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has ordered a review of the policy. Please take a moment and read my story of meeting my son, and hopefully you can have a vivid image of why it is
important to keep the family first in this matter, for it is a very personal moment when a fallen hero arrives home.

``I met my son's body at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on August 24, 2005 as he arrived from Dover. I went alone as a special privilege to take his body to the funeral home, where the family would then be the first to see the most striking, vivid image of a fallen loved one, the flag-draped casket. I rode in the hearse to take him on a 25-mile ride, covering the roads that Mike and I had shared so many days as a divorced dad and son going to and from visitation on weekends,
holidays, and summers. It was a `last ride to take my boy home.' ''

And this is in bold font, Mr. Speaker.

``I wore a favorite blue blazer, trousers, and a red and blue striped tie, for my son deserved my respect. As they uncrated his casket and draped the American flag over him, I saluted from nearby, tears streaming down my cheeks, as a number of busy U.S. Air cargo employees suddenly stopped in stunned silence, only then realizing what was taking place.

``I held my salute, poor as it was for an untrained civilian, until the flag was completely draped and the edges evenly cornered out. Then I stepped outside to call my wife, Retta, who loved him like one of her own. And as she answered the telephone, with tears still streaming down my cheeks and with a quiver in my voice, I said, ``our boy is home.''

Mike Stokely was age 23 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. While the political debate about Iraq or any other war may be had in a free country like this, such as we enjoy, there is no debate that our military personnel engage in of the politics of when, where, or how long a war is waged. They have a constitutional duty to obey the Commander in Chief's lawful orders.

Mike Stokely, and many others, did their constitutional duty, and in doing so, preserved our freedom. Mike, and those like him who haven't yet but will die for America, do not need to be a media spectacle at Dover Air Force Base.

``I was once asked what I thought the real cost of freedom is. There are many such costs, but for the Stokely family, and like many of us, the highest cost has been paid, a lifetime of love.

``Is it too much to ask, given what the fallen and their families have given America, for us to have that first moment of seeing the flag-draped casket to be ours and ours alone? ...[emphasis mine]

If you read nothing else today, or this week, go to The Thunder Run and read the rest of my friend Robert's letter. That is here.

Anything else I would add is totally superfluous. Thank YOU, Robert, and all the Stokely family for your continued service to the country that your son loved.

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