By Jim GaramoneAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2009 – The wishes of the families will be the overriding principle guiding any media coverage of fallen warriors’ remains arriving at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Gates directed a working group to come up with a plan to change a ban on such coverage imposed during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. “The working group I tasked to come up with an implementation plan has reported back, and we will put a number of its recommendations into action starting next month,” Gates said during a Pentagon news conference.
If several remains return to Dover on the same flight, for example, “the media will be permitted to cover only the dignified transfer of individuals whose families have given permission,” he said. “Further, should immediate family members wish to be present for the arrival of their fallen hero at Dover, and this can be done without unduly delaying a fallen’s return to his or her own hometown, we will facilitate that travel, and we will fund it,” Gates said. The study began with a survey of the groups concerned with the process. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael J. Basla chaired the Defense Department's working group. He said his group spoke with Gold Star Mothers, Gold Star Wives, veterans groups and senior enlisted advisors. “What we heard were two sides of the story,” Basla said during an interview. “Some were very in favor of media access to the dignified transfers when the families agree, and some had concerns.” The concerns were all around wanting to put the fallen heroes in the best of light. “They were concerned that that may not happen if we lose control,” Basla said. On the other hand, he said, many family members wanted to tell the stories of their loved ones. Officials at Dover will work out how the process will work. If families do not want media present, then officials at Dover can accomplish the dignified transfer of remains for those fallen warriors before allowing the media out to the tarmac. Media professionals will have a strict protocol to follow when covering the story, Basla said. “If any part of the media violates those protocols, then their access would be restricted in the future. We’re going to preserve the privacy of these families, and we’re going to maintain the dignity of these transfers.” In making his announcement, Gates echoed those sentiments. “We are committed to seeing that America's fallen heroes are received back to their loved ones and their country with the honor, respect and recognition that they and their families have earned,” he said.