The Washington Post

Pentagon bans media coverage of ceremony to return remains of soldiers killed in helo crash

U.S. military personnel preside over a “dignified transfer” at Dover Air Force Base. Media coverage of such ceremonies has been permitted for more than two years, as long as relatives of the deceased consent. (Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press)

The somber military ritual at Dover Air Force Base of welcoming home those killed in wars overseas was re-opened to the public in March 2009 after an 18-year ban. Coverage of the return of troops’ flag-draped remains — termed “dignified transfers” by the military — has been permitted since then as long as relatives of the deceased give their approval.

But Pentagon officials said Monday that the catastrophic nature of the crash had made it impossible to separate the service members’ remains or to make a preliminary identification of any of the individuals. As a result, they said, family members won’t have the option of granting permission for media coverage at Dover.

Marine Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the decision was not an attempt to restrict public images of the horror of war. He said Defense Department officials made an initial decision over the weekend “that if there were any identifiable remains in the group….and the family said yes, we’d allow media coverage.”

“The instance that we have here are unidentifiable remains,” he added.

Lapan said flag-draped cases bearing the remains of the 30 troops – 22 Navy SEALs, three Air Force Special Operations airmen and five Army aviators – are scheduled to arrive at Dover on Tuesday. He said senior U.S. officials and family members of the fallen troops were expected to be in attendance.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

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