Air Force personnel posing with casket, occupant with noose around neck

Air Force personnel posing with casket, occupant with noose around neck December 15, 2011

A jarring picture has surfaced after being mailed to reporters at Military Times.

This is extremely offensive to many of the families of fallen soldiers here at Fort Bragg, NC. A Non-Commissioned Officer, and friend of mine told me about this story. He described the situation, and both of us just thought “What the hell were they thinking?”

David Larton, staff writer at Military Times stated:

The commander of the 37th Training Group at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, has launched an investigation into a photo of 15 airmen posing with an open casket, in which another airman is posed with a noose around his neck and chains across his body.

“Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt …. Sucks 2 Be U” is written under the photo, which was emailed to Air Force Times.

In the picture, tech sergeants and staff sergeants stand with junior airmen surrounding the metallic casket, similar to those used to carry war dead home to the U.S.

The purpose of the photo, its inscription and its intended audience are not known. It surfaced one month after the public disclosure that the Air Force’s Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del., had lost and mishandled the remains of hundreds of fallen troops.

So this picture surfaces at exactly the wrong time for the Air Force. The safe transport of the remains of fallen heroes is a no-fail mission. When hundreds of instances of serious neglect result in lost remains, heads are going to roll.

Scapegoat or not, I’m fairly certain that all NCO’s pictured are going to be among the heads rolling. The junior enlisted were not without fault either, but I doubt they will be sacked simply for being where they were told. It’s difficult to tell how culpable they are without more information, so who knows.

The Military Times piece did not offer a reason why such a picture was taken. It looks to me like a ‘team picture’, for a particular graduating class, or squadron from the training school. These people likely thought it was just going to be used for their own team-building efforts. It just seems like a bad idea got out of hand, but nobody realized how far it would go outside the school house.

Judgement calls like this are difficult to make preemptively. We sing cadences about pretty horrific stuff – ‘Napalm Sticks to Kids’ comes to mind. Some of the reason for using humor is to normalize and relieve stresses associated with the military lifestyle.

But clearly something needs to be done to stop whatever ‘humor’ was supposed to be portrayed here. If you have to explain a joke, it wasn’t very funny. And this is probably one of those ‘bombs and airports’ situations, where there is little room for humor at all.

The noose is likewise disturbing, and equal parts puzzling.

I don’t even understand the caption. It’s conceivable that the caption “Da dumpt, da dumpt… Sucks 2 Be U” was their motto or some catch phrase or inside joke. It didn’t translate well in writing.

An investigation was launched, but details have not emerged.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mordecai

    The only instance where this could even conceivably be “appropriate” is if it was requested by the dead soldier. Outside of that, I can’t imagine where anyone involved thought it was a good idea.

  • Robin

    WOW! Very disturbing. It looks like there are multiple ethnicities among the participating troops, so the best thing to be said is it doesn’t appear to be racially motivated. If these people are handling the remains of our fallen soldiers yes they need to do something to relieve that stress. But that is so not appropriate.

  • Hank Fox

    I’m seeing this as a bit of gallows humor, carried out by some fairly young people.

    Yes, it’s offensive. Yes, it’s a dumb thing to do. But dishonorable discharges for all of them, as some of the commenters suggest?

    I vote No.

    If anybody’s earned the right to make a misstep in poking fun at the danger all members of the military face, at the danger they themselves will face, it would be people who are themselves in uniform.

    Recall that George W. Bush did FAR WORSE. Cut these kids a break.

  • beerslayer

    It would be interesting to know just what relationship, if any, the dead man in the casket had to the other, more fortunate people surrounding him in the picture. Was he an outcast among them? A pariah of some sort? A tyrannical staff sergeant? Someone who didn’t share their religious beliefs? An enemy combatant dressed post-mortem in a camo uniform?

    None of that comes even remotely close to justifying this sort of callousness, of course. But it might at least shed some light on WHY these people felt this was appropriate.

    Is it possible that the picture was more innocent, and the caption was added much later by someone not even in the picture?

  • Is the guy in the casket even dead? My first thought was that this was staged with an all-alive cast.

  • # 4 – the guy in the casket isn’t dead – he’s posing (see the post).

  • Mordecai

    Oh, I somehow came under the impression the soldier in the casket was dead (it’s what I get for skimming articles! shame on me). If he is not a dead soldier, then I think this is nudged a bit more into a “grey” area. But it still deserved one of the NCO’s thinking “this might not be a good idea”.

  • noastronomer

    Also that’s not a noose.

  • Bob

    It’s gallows humor, but they’re the ones who come home in the caskets, so they’re allowed to crack the jokes.

  • Art

    Sounds to me like they are burnt out and hardened to the sensitive nature of their assignment. Proper response might be: delete all copies (yes, I know the internet is forever). Give the senior NCO and officers in charge a stern talking to but pay particular attention to keeping morale up. That and a few hours of punishment duty, while making sure it will fail to show up on his record. Give the people involved in and around the situation a stern lecture collectively but follow with some structured team building activity and a BBQ, or such, to build morale and blow off steam.

    It is natural for people to get hardened with handling boxes with dead inside. After a while they feel under-appreciated. Frustrated and stressed it is expected that they find some way to kick back by making fun of their situation. It is to be expected that the form this takes will run counter to the overall goals and decorum of the larger situation.

    This is primarily a failure of the command to maintain morale and appropriate guidance as to what the proper outlets for frustration are. There is also a failure to maintain a proper military reverence for the dead.

    As I was told: “there are no bad privates. There are privates who have not been properly trained, motivated and lead. But there are no bad privates”.

    This is a leadership failure.

    • Hank Fox

      Well said.

    • The casket, the noose, the crossed arms . . . these are all masonic symbols.

      • Justin Griffith

        The conversation just went full retard.

        • I was just commenting on the obvious masonic symbolism – obvious to us retards who actually read books anyway.

    • Justin Griffith

      I think I’m in agreement too, but I can’t imagine the NCO’s escaping without UCMJ of some sort. Seriously, bad timing. They need a scapegoat anyway.

      • Perhaps the CC needs a better POC OCONUS than some CE who’s AOO is AFOSI and is in need of some BDE and BMT themselves!

  • T. Hunt


    “…heads are going to roll.”


    T. Hunt

    • Steve