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Wisconsin soldiers in coffin photo controversy are out of funeral unit, and their jobs

May 28, 2014

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Wisconsin soldiers in coffin photo controversy are out of funeral unit, and their jobs

Article by Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal

Two Wisconsin National Guard members were dropped from a funeral honor unit and no longer have full-time jobs with the Guard after a photo of soldiers clowning around near an empty, flag-draped coffin appeared on social media sites, a spokesman said.

Spc. Terry Harrison and Sgt. Luis Jimenez were suspended in February after veterans and others expressed outrage about the photo.

The two are still Guard members who drill on weekends, but they no longer have full-time employment with the state Guard, Maj. Paul Rickert said Friday.

Rickert declined to provide details of any disciplinary actions and or to say why their employment status changed.

The photograph shows 14 soldiers mugging for the camera around the casket, which was used for training. The caption reads, “We put the FUN in funeral — your fearless honor guard from various states.”

The photo was taken during a regional training session in Arkansas for funeral unit members. Rickert said he didn’t know anything about investigations of soldiers from other states, or whether the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., had completed its probe.

Harrison, the only Wisconsin soldier in the photo, was investigated because she posted the photo online. Jimenez drew attention because of comments he posted on social media defending the photo, Rickert said.

“She isn’t disrespecting anyone,” Jimenez wrote of Harrison. “It’s actually a selfless commitment she has made. These practice sessions are very long. It’s good to let loose a little. When your job constantly asked you to be serious. And no there’s no one in the casket.”

Jimenez was Harrison’s supervisor in the unit where they fulfill their part-time guard commitment, the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment in Madison.

Rickert said Harrison and Jimenez made poor choices.

“The comments that were made were inappropriate,” he said. “The military community and Gold Star parents were deeply offended by it, as were Guard leadership.”

Harrison was a member of the state’s 12-member funeral honor unit for about a year until she was suspended.

Before the photo with the coffin, she posted another image with a caption suggesting that cold weather could make it difficult to fold the flag that would be presented to a deceased veteran’s family. “It’s so (darn) cold out …WHY have a funeral outside!? Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag…,” said the caption with a photograph of Harrison in a dress uniform that was posted on her Instagram account several weeks ago.

Rickert said he incorporated “lessons” from the incident in training sessions that he provides to soldiers preparing for deployment.

“Hopefully they can take a lesson from that and check the things they say in public forums,” Rickert said. “They are not just speaking to their friends, they are speaking to the public at large when they are on social media.”

Funeral honors units attend somber memorial services for veterans, marching with the casket, saluting and presenting the flag to family members.