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In a rare “opinion piece” issued as a news release by the U.S. command in Afghanistan, a soldier has voiced a complaint against the order to put base flags at half-staff for the Virginia Tech shooting victims, but not for soldiers killed in combat.

Sgt. Jim Wilt, assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-82 Public Affairs Office, wrote: “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. servicemember.”

“Is the life of Sgt. Alexander Van Aalten, a member of our very own task force, killed April 20 in Helmand province not valued the same as these 32 students? Surely his death was as violent as the students.”

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, President Bush ordered all American flags be flown at half-staff for a week. Bagram air base, like many other U.S. installations across the world, has been following that edict.

Wilt’s article was picked up by several news outlets and popular blogs, and has now gained wide circulation.

“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,” he wrote. “Department of Defense directives mandate we honor our fallen leaders from former presidents to the state governors, but there is no provision for the men and women who die preserving our way of life. I can understand not lowering flags across the country for the death of a single servicemember. But shouldn’t the servicemember’s state lower the flag to show their respect to the fallen trooper, if only for one day? Some states do, but not all of them.”

Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, who works with Wilt, told The Associated Press that the piece was a “soldier’s commentary, not the view of the coalition and not the view of the U.S. forces.”

In the piece, Wilt noted that the relatively common occurrence of combat deaths doesn’t have the “shock factor” of the university shootings, but should be memorialized just as much.

“Isn’t it time our flag saluted back when a person makes the ultimate sacrifice? Shouldn’t the flag, which represents our society, tip its hat when someone dies to ensure it will fly another day?” Wilt wrote. “If the flags on our FOBs (forward operating bases) were lowered for just one day after the death of a servicemember, it would show the people who knew the person that society cared, the American people care.”


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