KABUL, Afghanistan — An Army sergeant complained in a rare opinion article that the U.S. flag flew at half-staff last week at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to fallen U.S. troops here and in Iraq.
In the article issued Monday by the public affairs office at Bagram military base north of Kabul, Sgt. Jim Wilt lamented that his comrades’ deaths have become a mere blip on the TV screen, lacking the “shock factor” to be honored by the Stars and Stripes as the deaths at Virginia Tech were.
“I find it ironic that the flags were flown at half-staff for the young men and women who were killed at VT, yet it is never lowered for the death of a U.S. service member,” Wilt wrote.
He noted that Bagram obeyed President Bush’s order last week that all U.S. flags at federal locations be flown at half-staff through April 22 to honor 32 people killed at Virginia Tech by a 23-year-old student gunman who then killed himself.
“I think it is sad that we do not raise the bases’ flag to half-staff when a member of our own task force dies,” Wilt said.
According to the Defense Department, 315 U.S. service members have died in and around Afghanistan since the U.S.-led offensive that toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001, 198 of them in combat.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said that the flags of all its troop-contributing nations are flown at half-staff for about 72 hours after the service member’s death “as a mark of respect when there is an ISAF fatality.”
Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, who works with Wilt at the U.S.-led coalition public affairs office, said the essay is a “soldier’s commentary, not the view of the coalition and not the view of the U.S. forces.”
Welch added that such outspoken opinion pieces are rare.
Wilt suggested that flags should fly at half-staff on the base where the fallen service member was working and in the states where they hail from. He said some states do this, but not all of them.
He wrote that the death of a U.S. service member is just as violent as those at the university last week, but it lacks the “shock factor of the Virginia massacre.”
“It is a daily occurrence these days to see X number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan scrolling across the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen. People have come to expect casualty counts in the nightly news; they don’t expect to see 32 students killed,” he wrote.
“If the flags on our (operating bases) were lowered for just one day after the death of a service member, it would show the people who knew the person that society cared, the American people care.”
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