More soldiers may get full Arlington honors

The Army is considering whether to extend full military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery to all Army enlisted battlefield casualties, a service official said Wednesday.

Full honors, which include a horse-drawn caisson in addition to the military pallbearers, firing party, bugler and chaplain that are a part of standard honors, are now accorded only to officers — regardless of the circumstances of death — as well as Medal of Honor recipients and troops who reached the highest possible enlisted rank, E-9, according to Kaitlin Horst, a cemetery spokeswoman.

If a broader policy is adopted, full honors would be accorded for all Army burials involving battlefield casualties regardless of the deceased’s rank, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

Boyce said the proposal is being reviewed by Army leadership, Army personnel officials and the Military District of Washington, which is responsible for rendering honors at Arlington and oversees the Old Guard troops who conduct Army funerals there.

While members of all the services are buried at Arlington and the Army secretary is the executive agent for what is considered the nation’s most hallowed military cemetery, the Army is considering changes in the rendering of honors only for the burials of soldiers.

“We would share with the other services what we decide,” Boyce said, and it would then be up to those services — which all supply their own funeral details — to decide whether to follow suit and recommend their own changes to the Army secretary.

There is no timeline for a decision, Boyce said.

The biggest obstacle to providing full honors for more funerals, Arlington officials say, is the limited availability of assets.

Washington-based ceremonial troops are on call to perform official functions other than funerals. Arlington has but two of the Old Guard-run caisson units and can perform only four of the stately funerals each day, Monday through Friday.

Another issue: A band isn’t always available.

In addition to burials for service members killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arlington also copes with an increasing number of burials of World War II and Korean War veterans. And while the average wait for an Arlington funeral is five weeks, officials try to hold funerals for the war dead within two weeks.

For instance, Army Sergeant Kevin Grieco was killed in Afghanistan on October 27; he will be buried in Arlington on November 13.

As of November 5, a total of 527 service members killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried at Arlington, according to Horst.

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