Photo Effects: Wisconsin National Guard Reacts to Damaging Photos on Social Media
The Wisconsin National Guard is reacting to an event that occurred over the weekend reaching a head on Feb. 17, 2014. Spc. Terry Harrison, a Wisconsin National Guard member posted to her Instagram a photo taken at La Vern E. Weber National Guard Professional Education Center. The photo featured Harrison and fellow trainees posed around a flag-draped, empty coffin making faces and striking poses. The comment below the photo read, “We put the FUN in funeral– your fearless honor guard from various states…”
A few hours later another photo of Harrison in uniform surfaced with the caption, “It’s so damn cold out….. WHY have a funeral outside!? Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag.”
Within a few hours social media sites began circulating the photos which created a firestorm of controversy. The Wisconsin National Guard’s Facebook page began receiving comments ranging from how could this happen to death threats against those involved. Wisconsin National Guard Director of Communications Major Paul Rickert said, ”We were outraged and concerned. We made the decision to leave the photos on our page when it was posted by others. We didn’t want people to think we were hiding anything. We wanted the public to be aware that we knew about the photos and that we were taking action.”
Although the photos have been removed from the Wisconsin National Guard Facebook page, and Harrison has deleted her Facebook and Instagram accounts, the controversy remains. Within a few hours of the photos surfacing, the Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs office took action. A statement on their Facebook page Feb. 17th; “It has come to the attention of the Wisconsin National Guard that a soldier may have posted inappropriate pictures and comments regarding their duties as a member of a Funeral Honor Guard. We are currently looking into the matter. Thank you.”
The Wisconsin Adjutant General has issued a statement apologizing for the effects the photos have had on veterans, military members and the families of the fallen. A formal investigation has been started and Harrison has been suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
“We deeply regret that this happened,” said Rickert. “We do not infringe on anyone’s second amendment rights. We allow soldiers and airmen to post freely to social media. However we expect and train soldiers to behave in a professional manner. We expect them to conduct themselves professionally and honorably at all times.”
The photo of the flag draped coffin was taken in Arkansas at the PEC. The facility has a long history of training National Guard members for various duties which include; funeral services, human resources and readiness, information technology, and installation, logistic and environmental. Mr. Dabany civilian representative of the facility said that the program doesn’t currently have a component training soldiers on the do’s and don’ts of media relations. Replying to the question of whether there was a plan to add such a component to the training, Dabany said, “Wish I had an answer, but I don’t. It is a wait and see. I am sure that in the end, positive results will come from all this sadness–”
“This was an anomaly”, Major Rickert said. “A large number of the comments on our Facebook page have been negative. A few recognize this as an act of an individual soldier and continue to support the Wisconsin National Guard.”
Commentators on social media have said, “As a Disabled Veteran and having lost many Brothers over the past decade plus of warfare and I am utterly disgusted with this callous display. Each and everyone of them; to include the OIC and NCOIC of this detail, needs to be Court Marshaled (sic) and receive and (sic) immediate Dishonorable Discharge after making a public apology.”
A Gold Star mother said, “I personally feel that everyone in(sic.) should be dishonorable discharged as well as who ever took the pictures.”
Another veteran said, “…Soldiers need to be held accountable for THEIR action and not necessarily the chain of command. If the leadership observed this and did nothing then yes hammer them. However, if they did not they should not be held accountable. Everyone in the Army is an ADULT and NO ONE was drafted (forced) to serve. As Soldiers a coffin should be treated like weapons… as if there is always something inside!”
Pending the outcome of the investigation the repercussions of this event could effect the National Guard for years to come.