Honor Guard of Two People or More Ordered for Marines' Caskets

Friday, April 28, 2006

The fallen are not forgotten.

At least two Marines will accompany the caskets of Marines killed in Afghanistan or Iraq when their remains arrive in their home towns, the Marine Corps announced last week. Previously, only one Marine had to be on hand to "render appropriate honors" when a fallen service member was taken home.

Now, the honor guard will consist of a Marine escort, who will accompany the casket home from Dover Air Force Base, and a casualty assistance calls officer, who will wait at the destination airport and assist surviving family members with funeral arrangements and applying for benefits.

And that is just the minimum contingent, said Bryan Driver, a Marine spokesman.

"In the majority of cases, there's far more than two people there to receive the remains," Driver said. "In some cases they have full unit honor guards or they have local veterans that are there when they take the remains off the plane."

The policy change follows orders from the Pentagon in February that "to the maximum extent possible, small honor guards will render appropriate honors plane-side at the arrival airports for all fallen active duty service members." The Army, Navy and Air Force also have adopted the two-person minimum.

Some members of Congress began demanding more respect for deceased service members last year after news footage showed a Marine's casket being transported on a conveyor belt with passenger luggage of a commercial flight, Navy Times reported in January.

In a report with the 2006 Defense Department authorization bill last year, House and Senate conferees directed the defense secretary to develop a system to ensure that honor guards provide appropriate military honors when the body of a service member is brought home. The report said that "for those who make our freedom possible, this final honor is reasonable and justified by their sacrifice."

Two-thirds of Marines are single. So when one is killed, officials usually notify the parents. The service member's remains are flown by military transport to Dover, where all personnel stand and salute. The remains usually travel to their final destination in the cargo hold of a commercial aircraft with a volunteer escort aboard.

The Marine unit closest to where the family lives is responsible for providing assistance to the family and sending someone to meet the casket at the airport, Driver said. The casualty assistance calls officer is available to help the family transport the remains either to a funeral home or directly to a grave site. It's a system to provide both military honor and administrative support.

"The honors part is saluting the remains as they go on the plane and as they come off the plane," Driver said. "That's the same thing that they do when they load the caskets on the airplane when they leave the theater."

-- Christopher Lee

© 2006 The Washington Post Company