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Chaos at Arlington National Cemetery

Ami Neiberger-Miller and GaryTallman
Spokesperson, TAPS and Spokesman, Army Media Relations
Friday, June 11, 2010; 12:00 PM

Army investigators at Arlington National Cemetery have found more than 100 unmarked graves, scores of grave sites with headstones that are not recorded on cemetery maps, and at least four burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped in an area where excess grave dirt is kept.

Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokesperson for TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and Gary Tallmam, spokesman for the Army Media Relations Division, will be online Friday, June 11, at Noon ET to discuss the investigation.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

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North Potomac, Md.: What is the timing as to when these burials took place? My husband's cremated remains were interned at the Columbarium in May 2005 ... do I need to be concerned?

Gary Tallman: Hello: For the sections highlighted yesterday (59, 65 and 66), burials took place from the mid-70s until 2003 for 65 and 66. Section 59 is still active. The time periods cover vets and families from WW1, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and peacetime periods.

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Wallkill, N.Y.: It has come to my attention that grave markers at Arlington are no longer engraved with a treatment the makes the lettering black, without which, names and information cannot be read as well. Surviving families have noticed the difference and are upset. In light of the service these fallen heroes have given, how can the Army justify this?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: This is Ami. I work with TAPS and I'm also a surviving family member. I've talked with a lot of famiiles about this lithochrome issue and even brought it up at the national cemetery quarterly briefing. The policy was actually reversed at Arlington in response to family requests and now all stones again have lithochrome. Any families that received the non-lithochrome (non thick black lettering) for the few months this happened, can call Arlington and request it be changed to lithochrome and they will order a new stone, no questions asked. Any problems please call us at TAPS 800.959.TAPS and we can help the family make the call to Arlington.

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Centreville, Va.: I have attended several funerals at ANC and found the experience both dignified and emotionally moving. Since there are apparently no legacy electronic systems, there is the opportunity to build a world-class integrated system that ties together all of the aspects of ANC. I hope that these unfortunate and hopefully isolated events can lead to a brighter future. Also, do not rush into a "fix" that will only cause more and/or different problems for the ANC staff and management.

Ami Neiberger-Miller: Thanks for your thoughtful words. My experience at my brother's funeral and my father-in-law's funeral at Arlington were both deeply moving but very different because of the circumstances - my father-in-law lived a long life and my brother was 22. This is an opportunity to build a new system and we believe the process will be transparent and that families like mine will be informed along the way about the progress and we will be asking about it and helping update other families.

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Washington, D.C.: My son is in the columbarium -- how safe is he from vandals?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: I've been to the columbarium several times visiting sites for families and it is very secure. The columbarium is located just behind section 60 and the cemetery has security in place at well. The security guards often visit section 60 at closing time to make sure all is safe and quiet.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any criminal investigation of these incidents?

Gary Tallman: Hello: The incidents the Secretary of the Army briefed yesterday were largely managerial and accountability (not criminal) failings. However, there are still active investigations being conducted by the US Army Criminal Investigation Division Command regarding earlier inquiries at Arlington (into contracting and information technology issues). There will also be further reviews into potential disciplinary action on some of the personnel and management failings the Army IG found. We have to see where the facts and circumstances lead the investigators.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Will this be the typical sacrificial goat to be symbolically slaughtered with no real corrective action or will there be a true investigation? The described situation is not the result of a single incompetent in action. It seems as though many in the organization were solvenly in their job performance. COL Roy J Dittamo USA (ret)

Ami Neiberger-Miller: I'm a surviving family member, so this is my thought, not an Army response. I watched the full remarks by Secretary McHugh yesterday and he started the press conference talking about the fact that the inspector general's review found that the staff at Arlington do an exemplary job conducting funerals at Arlington and that the problems identified are managerial and administrative. I have heard that also from families - that many felt their loved one was honored and cared for at the funeral. The problems were after. So many of the problems were not readily apparent to families at funerals. They are serious issues and the Army is taking immediate steps to address them.

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Arlington, Va.: I have visited the columbarium. It seems to provide secure holdings for ashes. So how were the ashes scattered on the ground?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: My understanding is the problems discussed yesterday occurred when they went to add a spouse to a grave and a funereal urn was unearthed by accident and then placed with the leftover dirt. Then the urn ended up with the removed dirt. They talked about 4 or 5 situations where the happened, which is disturbing for families, because we all want to know our loved ones are at rest.

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Alexandria, Va.: Solution for Future Arlington burials

Regarding the problem on Arlington Cemetery graves possibly containing incorrect or unidentified remains.

All future caskets and cremation urns shall have both a metal tag and a scan able electronic chip identifying the service member's remains. If there is a question as to whether the remains are under the correct tombstone or cremation niche marker, a scanner similar to what is now used on government identity cards would scan the remains for idenity confirmation.

Of course no system is full proof, according to the Social Security database I was dead from 1974 to 1992 and I had a Secret clearance from the military during the same time period.

Gary Tallman: Hi; thanks for your suggestions. Regarding tagging of urns and caskets, that was in fact insitituted at Arlington within the last 10 years. Automation of burial records was certainly a major fault found in the investigation and we're looking to a way to surely remedy that.

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Arlington, Va.: I sympathize for anyone affected, but at the same time, I'm betting that most of these mistakes were truly that -- mistakes, that weren't purposely done out of malice. Laziness maybe... But I would hardly characterize that as "Chaos". That's a bit of a sensationalistic headline no?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: I have to admit - as a family member - seeing "chaos" on that headline was really hard. All of our families have been through a lot and many are still actively grieving, so this adds to the pain that many are carrying over losing their loved one. I have talked with the staff at Arlington often about concerns families have or just about things going on and they have been caring and responsive and tried to resolve things within the policies they work under. I don't think this was a situation with malice toward families, but a situation where a very poor record keeping/climate system perpetuated mistakes and errors anbe caused them to amplify in a domino effect.

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Corvallis, Oregon: How can any gravesite not have been recorded and mapped prior to the initial digging of the grave? What are the procedures from the moment the cemetery is aware that someone will be buried at Arlington to the final burial with headstones? I remember when I visited Arlington Cemetery in 1998 and had taken pictures of Gen. Marion Carl's headstone. When I returned home, I called his widow and indicated that I had pictures of his headstone and she indicated that initially he had been buried somewhere else in the cemetery and had just had the traditional cross, which she only had pictures of, and then he was later unearthed and placed in an area where larger headstones are accepted. She did not have pictures of the new headstone, so I sent her the ones that I had taken when I was there.

Ami Neiberger-Miller: Hi, this is Ami. I am a surviving family member and I work with TAPS. I don't know about her particular situation or how this might have happened, and it's terrible that she would not feel certainty about where her husband is laid to rest or the marker. I would suggest that if she has questions about where her husband is interred that she call the cemetery hotline for families at 703.607.8199 between 8am-9pm EST and they can talk with her about her situation in more detail and answer her questions.

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Baltimore, Md.: The intentional or unintentional desecration of graves is a terrible thing, especially for beloved soldiers. Please answer my questions directly and thoroughly: (1) How will you locate and identify the remains in the urns? (2) How will you locate and identify the remains in the unmarked graves? (3) When will you locate and identify the remains in both the urns and graves (what is the timeline for doing both things)? (4) What protocols will be put in place to make sure this does not happen again? (5) When and how will you communicate with the public that the problem has been fixed? (6) If the remains cannot be identified, then how will you address the situation?

Gary Tallman: Hello, and thank you for your questions. As Secretary McHugh said yesterday, no apology or regret is sufficient enough regarding this situation. We need to move forward, fix what was found, and do it 100 percent right from now on. I will try to answer as directly as possible at this moment:

1-The new leadership team Secretary McHugh appointed at Arlington arrived yesterday and will assess what needs to be done to reestablish grave records and accountability.

2-That new team needs to do their assessment and decide what is the most appropriate way to identify remains if it comes to that.

3,4,6-The new team must now look at what the Army IG found, and then determine what to do. That will provide a better insight into how long it may take. We don't have an answer for that right now.

5-The Army intends to communicate with the public when it has any updated information on how we have addressed the IG report findings.

The Army MUST do better at Arlington

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Seattle, Wash.: My heart breaks for the families of the soldiers who now have this additional tragedy in their lives.

Does it look like this was more due to incompetence or because they weren't getting the resources they needed?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: I was on the phone yesterday with a dad who was worried about his 19-year-old son's grave and talking with him. This is a hard thing, a very hard thing, for families. My feeling as a family member and someone who works with a lot of families at TAPS, is that this was a combination of a poor managerial system and a poor working climate. The problems in the record keeping system allowed problems to multiple and have a domino effect that amplified the situation. The Inspector General's report talks about these and so does the early reporting on salon.com by Mark Benjamin. I appreciated that the Secretary apologized yesterday to surviving families and that the Army is taking immediate steps to address the situation.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How long will this investigation take? How hopeful are you that the missing records will ever be located?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: It's evident from the Secretary's remarks yesterday that the problems are systemic and will take major changes to fix. I am encouraged that the Army is taking immediate steps to fix these problems. The families will be asking about this and asking for accountability. We don't know how long it will take. The problems discussed yesterday with 211 mis-labeled/mis-identified graves were in 3 sections but my sense is they will need to look at additional sections as well as the new system is put in place to ensure everything is correct. So we don't know how long it will take but want the Army to get a better system in place.

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Newport Beach, Calif.: How? How does the person and/or persons who allowed this kind of horror and total disregard for our fallen military sleep at night?

When will every person who is currently overseeing Arlington Cemetery be terminated and replaced with those who have integrity and respect not only for our fallen heroes but for the United States of America? When?

Gary Tallman: Hello, and thank you for your questions. The Secretary of the Army replaced the top leadership at Arlington yesterday. A new leadership team of (senior Army civilian and Veterans Administration cemetery specialist) are now in place. That team will assess the operations at Arlingtion and determine in the near future (I do not have a specific time frame) if any additoinal personnel changes need to be made. I will say that the IG's report found that the rank and file employees are honorably and respectfully conducting 27-30 funerals daily. That does not excuse the leadership and management failures that took place.

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Southport, N.C.: Whatever has happened I will always be thankful to Mr. Mazarick and his father for the treatment we received at my father's family.

Ami Neiberger-Miller: Thanks for your kind words. I know our family has always been grateful for the way we were treated and the great care taken for my brother's funeral in 2007 and my father-in-law's funeral. Many families, esp. for active duty deaths, are in a lot of shock at the time of the funeral and so it's especially important that they be treated with greate care by staff one-on-one. The Secretary talked yesterday, in addition to these problems, about the evidence that the staff at Arlington have worked very hard to care for families going through the funeral process, before talking about the serious problems that the investigation identified.

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they will order a new stone: I am SURE there is a much less expensive (and less intrusive) way to add shading to the existing stone rather than made a new stone.

Ami Neiberger-Miller: Actually - there's not. I thought that too! They have to order a new stone to fix the lettering problem on the non-lithochrome stones. The black lithochrome lettering is the result of a bevel that is applied to the stone directly and cannot be done in place in the ground.

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Homestead, Fla.: How can we utilize the new technology for record keeping so that mistakes such these would not happen again?

Thank you.

Gary Tallman: Hello; thanks for your question on this. The Total Cemetery Management System (TCMS) that the IG report did not successfully get fielded was intended to use GPS technology to aid in keeping graves pinpointed. This remains a key technology that we expect to continue to look at using when the new management team moves forward as directed by the Secretary of the Army to fix what the Army IG found.

Gary Tallman: Hello; thanks for your question on this. The Total Cemetery Management System (TCMS) that the IG report found did not successfully get fielded was intended to use GPS technology to aid in keeping graves pinpointed. This remains a key technology that we expect to continue to look at using when the new management team moves forward as directed by the Secretary of the Army to fix what the Army IG found.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon,

This is a very sad situation. What has been reported is only a few sections have been noted as having "mistakes" made. What are the chances that there will be many more errors uncovered once they start looking at other sections?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: This is Ami, so I'm responding as a survivor and I don't work for the Army. The report indicated that there are systemic record keeping problems at Arlington which apply to the entire cemetery. The 3 sections where problems have been identified - these problems were originally noted because of a tree survey and because families raised questions. I would expect that as a new system is brought online and more accountability applied, that there will be additional fixes needed, but we would hope it is not as significant as this.

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Messing up a funeral: How is this disaster possible? You have one body, one coffin, one headstone and one hole in the ground. How then can anyone screw that up? Maybe I could understand if it involved older burials, but from what I am reading, it involves some of the most recent. The older ones, I see, were adequately documented. Is that correct? Did the notorious nepotism at the cemetery have anything to do with it as one whistleblower charges? if so, what is the Army going to do about parents securing well-paid sinecures for their children-- a problem that also infects other Army units?

Gary Tallman: Hello, and thanks for your questions.

On the nepotism aspect, the IG investigation determined that allegations of nepotism and favoritism were not substantiated. The hiring in quesiton was competitively competed and others selected before that person actually turned the job down. For more details on this http://www.army.mil/arlington contains the IG report and supporting materials.

On the loss of accountability on the grave sites, the Secretary of the Army and the report were very clear that it was a leadership and management failure by the senior leadership there that directly contributed to this situation, a situation that the Army deeply regrets and must fix immediately.

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New York: I heard on NPR this morning that the areas investigated are only a sampling of the total number of grave sites at Arlington. That means there could be many, many more grave sites could have problems, regardless of when they were buried. Shouldn't families of all the interred be concerned? Thanks.

Ami Neiberger-Miller: Hi, I would suggest that if a family has a concern about where their loved one is buried, they should call the family assistance hotline at Arlington and ask. The number is 703.607.8199 and they are available 8am-9pm EST. The initial sections identified were noted because families raised concerns and a tree survey. As more accountability is applied, there may be more that surface. I think this is inevitable. It was apparent from the IG report that the problem with record keeping is systemic and that means the entire record keeping system. The families and the Army are expecting full accountability and for all of the mistakes to be fixed as quickly as possible. Our loved ones deserve nothing less.

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Arlington, Va.: I live very close to Ft. Meyer/Arlington cemetery. Last year, we would hear taps played regularly from the loudspeaker four times a day (at least). In the morning they played at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and in the evening at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Why did they all of a sudden stop? It is so awesome to be in your backyard and hear the taps randomly on the hour, along with the bells ringing from the chapel.

Gary Tallman: Hello; I can't answer this particular question as it regards day to day operations at Arlingtion. I can however direct you to the public affairs office at 703-607-8576 to get an answer to this question.

Thanks

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Pasadena, Calif.: Some time ago the Washington Post reported on a woman who had some issues with the management at ANC. Shouldn't that have been a red flag? Is that what triggered the IGs investigation?

Ami Neiberger-Miller: The person they were reporting on was Gina Gray, who was the public affairs officer at the cemetery and was fired. There has been a lot of media coverage about her situation and if you google her, you can see the chain of events that happened and led to IG investigations.

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Bethesda, Md.: Arlington is not the only military cemetery. Are the others now undergoing similar examinations?

Gary Tallman: Hello: You're correct...the Soldiers Home in NW D.C. is the other one. The IG did look at that as well, but that facility did not seem to have the same issues as Arlington did. That said, the Secretary of the Army has taken this opportunity to expand the scope of his directed actions to review to all Army post cemeteries so there is more commonality in procedures and accountability.

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Washington, D.C.: I worked at ANC a few years ago and while all was calm and peaceful on the outside it was a very unpleasant work environment. Supervisors literally screamed at staff to work faster. The paper filing system was indeed imperfect, prone to human error. Bottom line, is ANC looked good but scratch the surface and what a mess.

Gary Tallman: Hello: Thanks for your comments. I encourage you that if you desire to provide any information you feel may be relevant regarding Arlington, please contact the Army Inspector General. Though the investigation is complete and the Secretary of the Army has announced the findings, I can assure you that the Army would still like to have this information to help the new management team there chart the way forward to fix the issues the IG found.

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Washington, D.C.: I couldn't believe there is no computer system for the graves in Arlington. How come? Will this be resolved soon?

Gary Tallman: Hello: Thanks for your questions. The results of the Army IG report are posted at http://www.army.mil/arlington. The report clearly states the leadership team there failed to properly resource and oversee the planned automation of the cemetery's records. The Secretary of the Army has directed that this start to get fixed immediately. The new management team is overseeing this.

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Ami Neiberger-Miller: Thanks everyone for participating.

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