The United States Air Force has launched an internal investigation after a disturbing image of 15 soldiers posing with one of them chained up in an open casket with a noose around his neck surfaced online.
The picture is dated August 23 and appeared on Facebook in early October, with the caption: “Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt… Sucks 2 Be U” scribbled on the bottom.
The image was published in the Air Force Times this week and has sparked outrage from soldiers and military wives and widows, appalled by the display.
The picture shows the group of male and female soldiers wearing fatigues crossing their arms to make “X” signs as they gather around a fellow airman who appears lifeless lying in a metal casket used to transport fallen soldiers.
Air Force Times reports a former soldier who saw the photo on the social networking website forwarded it to friends, including Staff Sergeant Elias Bonilla of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Sergeant Elias Bonilla emailed the photo to Air Force Times with a note reading: “I cannot help but picture the faces of my dead [soldiers] that we drug out of burning vehicles, dug out from collapsed buildings.”
The soldiers’ names have not yet been released. However, it is believed they are “Port Dogs” who load planes, who were attending Air Transportation technical school.
Military officials said today they are from the 345th Training Squadron in Fort Lee, Virginia. Their unit is a detachment from a command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Air Force Times reported an investigation was launched after it forwarded the photo to Air Education and Training Command, the overall training command for the Air Force, for comment.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the newspaper: “We take this matter seriously. [Air Education and Training Command] has initiated a commander directed investigation.
“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.”
David E. Smith, spokesman for the training command, told Air Force Times that the commander of the 37th Training Group at Lackland, Colonel Gregory Reese, was “obviously displeased”.
However, it was not known at press time if any charges could be brought against the soldiers, or if any rules had been violated.
The intent of the photo had not been determined at press time.
But Air Force officers and military families have made clear its message was shockingly offensive, and are calling for the troops’ dismissals.
Air Force police officer Mike Hayes, commenting on the story, wrote: “All these NCOs and Airman should be prosecuted and dismissed from the military. This is disgraceful and disrespectful to all the men.”
The investigation is expected to be completed in one to two weeks.
The shocking display comes a month after the Washington Post reported the Air Force’s mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, had lost and mishandled the remains of hundreds of dead troops, sending them to for burial in a landfill in Virginia.
CNN reports a congressional panel investigating the actions of the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary will meet for the first time next week.