Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced today that he has approved an exception to policy that will allow a Louisiana guardsman killed in a March 10th helicopter crash off the coast of Florida to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich was one of 11 service members killed when their Black Hawk crashed in heavy weather near Pensacola, Florida. Because Florich was on a training mission, his family’s request for burial at Arlington was originally denied by the cemetery’s executive director; a subsequent review by an advisory panel unanimously supported that decision based on the cemetery’s strict eligibility requirements for in-ground burial.
“As the nation’s premiere military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery holds a unique place in the history and hearts of the United States,” said McHugh. “Because of the overwhelming number of requests for burials – and the limited space available – stringent criteria for in-ground burials were enacted to ensure that an otherwise eligible veteran or service member would not be denied their right to be buried at Arlington. ”
After reviewing the Florich family’s request, McHugh agreed that there was a “compelling justification for granting this request for an exception to ANC’s interment eligibility criteria.” McHugh specifically noted that while Florich was training in his capacity as a member of the National Guard, others who were killed were considered to be on active duty and were therefore eligible for burial at Arlington without an exception to policy. That anomaly led McHugh to reverse the Army’s earlier decision.
“As the U.S. military evolves, reserve and National Guard service members train alongside their active duty counterparts with increasing frequency,” McHugh wrote in a subsequent memorandum. “When these service members tragically lose their lives while training side-by-side for the same mission in defense of our nation, it is fitting to afford them the same burial privileges.”
McHugh has since ordered a review of the Code of Federal Regulations – which governs eligibility for interment and inurnment at Arlington – to see if changes may be needed.
“As the cemetery’s stewards since 1864, the United States Army has a duty and responsibility to ensure that we are able to meet the needs of eligible veterans and service members who desire Arlington National Cemetery as their final resting place,” he said. “To do that, it’s important that we continue to uphold its standards and traditions, but at the same time, recognize the service and sacrifice of deserving veterans and military personnel. Staff Sgt. Florich is clearly deserving of this honor and his nation’s thanks.”
Release No: NR-231-15
June 12, 2015