Pentagon: Dover media ban likely to end within weeks
Stars and Stripes March 18, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Del., late Tuesday night to "personally honor the sacrifice" of four fallen troops killed by an IED attack near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Sunday. It was the secretary’s first visit to Dover, where most servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought home.
"This is something he’s been meaning to do for months now," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary. "It was a very moving experience for him."
"This was merely a personal visit of the secretary’s. Something that … is completely detached from his decision about media access to Dover."
In February, Gates announced the Pentagon was lifting the 1991 ban on media coverage of the remains of fallen servicemembers at Dover. The new policy will allow reporters, photographers and television crews to record the events, but only with the permission of family members. That caveat has raised many questions about how the military will manage media and family who want coverage.
An internal Pentagon "implementation committee" has met with Gates to present their initial recommendations but is still formulating the policy, Morrell said.
"I would say we’re likely a matter of weeks, rather than months, away from the new procedures being implemented," he said, and even longer before the first family-approved media coverage of repatriation may occur.
Pentagon officials have not said who specifically has been asked to weigh in on the new policy, only that a "robust working group" of specialists has been meeting almost daily in the Pentagon.
"It’s all of the people that you would expect that would have expertise or interest in this area. It’s Personnel and Readiness, it’s Joint Staff, it’s Public Affairs, it’s Casualties, the J-1s of the world, personnel people. It’s the Chaplaincy; those folks are a part of this. The Air Force TRANSCOM — all of the services," a spokesman said.
But for Gates, this trip was a private matter.
"The secretary was enormously impressed by the professionalism of the aircrew, the honor guards, the mortuary affairs personnel and really everyone involved in this process. We very much appreciate their steadfast commitment to treating our returning war dead as the fallen heroes that they truly are," Morrell said.
"We did not travel even with an official photographer."