National Guard Soldier Denied Burial: Shouldn’t All Service Count?
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National Guard Soldier Denied Burial: Shouldn’t All Service Count?

Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich
Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich

Officials have denied a soldier burial at Arlington National Cemetery after stating that his service differed from the Marines aboard the fatal crash.

On March 10th, eleven service members, seven Marines and four National Guard members were killed in a helicopter crash during a training mission off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. This group was part of a specialized training mission with MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command) out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Across the internet, and during memorial services held, you will find these eleven men named together. They served as a group, they died as a group, and if you were at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day, as I was, you would have seen the resting place of four of those men. What you will not see is the final resting place of Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, of the Louisiana National Guard. Florich has been denied ground burial at the National cemetery because he died during a training mission and not active duty, as the result of the standard policy of Arlington and the Army who oversees it.

According to Title 32 Code of Federal Regulations Part 553, section 15a,

Any active duty member of the armed forces (except those members service on active duty for training only)may be buried at Arlington.

There are other categories to include former, retired, physically injured and those that served in National Office. Littered throughout the various standards you will see “other than for training only”. These specific regulations only apply to ground internment. Florich’s family has the option to choose what Arlington calls “inurnment”, which is the storing of ashes in the Niche Wall or Columbarium. These structures can be seen in the distance behind Section 60, which is where the other from the MARSOC crash are located.

When the HUN reached out to Arlington for a comment we were provided with the following statement:

“Staff Sgt. Florich’s death was tragic, and a deep loss to his family, the Army and our nation. His record of service makes him eligible for inurnment, so he may be forever enshrined in Arlington National Cemetery; however, since at the time of his death he was on active duty for training only, he therefore does not meet the well-established criteria for interment in Arlington National Cemetery. The family’s request for an exception to policy was thoroughly reviewed in accordance with established protocols. The Army National Military Cemeteries Executive Director and the Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Group unanimously agreed that the circumstances, while tragic, did not warrant displacing an otherwise eligible service member or veteran.” 

National Guard Soldier Denied Burial: Shouldn’t All Service Count?… 

Let me first reiterate, I appreciate the need for rules, and that Arlington is “running out of room”, although there is a plan in place to expand by approximately 65-acres. Those reasons also don’t seem to change how I feel. Four of those aboard the training mission were there on active duty orders for training purposes. They were not active duty in the traditional sense of the word; and because this incident took place over American waters during a training mission, and not in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan an exception cannot be made. Everyone, active duty or not, were there to train. Death during a training accident does not bar the burial of active duty, as there is a headstone to honor Marines killed in a similar training accident near Camp Pendleton in 2012 not far from those who died on March 10th. Staff Sgt Florich had not previously deployed, so perhaps that is the reason for the denial of the policy. However the wording is unclear in that respect. Would he have been allowed to be buried in a group burial had that been the choice of the spouses and relatives of the others from that day?

My son and I at Arlington.
My son and I at Arlington.

The struggle to understand and appreciate the original policy, and then the denial of the appeal, is a difficult one. There is a part of me that sees the cut and dry nature of it. You want everyone to have the opportunity to be honored in this way. You see the fact that Florich can be laid to rest in the Niche or Wall behind Section 60, and think, that’s enough. It doesn’t seem fair that he cannot be there, only a few yards from those that were there with him that day. The phrase “an otherwise eligible service member” from the official statement rubs the wrong way as well, revealing yet another way National Guard and Reserve service members and their families feel slighted by those they serve and protect. Responses to this situation have been fairly unanimous, and most people are angry, even when told the particulars of the policy.

Most people feel as though an exception should be made. Some bring the plight of Guard issues into the conversation. While others bring up the fact that when the cemetery originated, to house all of the Civil War soldiers, these men were our original National Guardsmen. The minute men of our country, citizen soldiers. These men and women bear the burden of protecting us here on the homefront even if it’s not during a civil war. There doesn’t seem to be an answer that makes you feel better, but it is a discussion worth having, and a possible call to action for those that wish to see the policy, or the appeals process altered.

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