Arlington Cemetery Officer Fired for Helping Media

Sunday, July 19, 2009
Army funeral at Arlington

After serving in Iraq, public affairs specialist Gina Gray figured her new assignment handling media requests for Arlington National Cemetery would be a lot safer and easier. She thought wrong. Soon after taking over as the public affairs director for the nation’s best known military cemetery, Gray discovered the Army was trying to thwart media access to funerals for fallen soldiers. She bucked this effort, and after telling The Washington Post what was going on, she was first demoted, and then fired by the U.S. Army.

Back in April 2008, and only days into her new assignment, Gray was handling media coverage for the burial of a Marine colonel killed in Iraq when she discovered that Thurman Higginbotham, the Arlington’s deputy superintendent, had moved the media area 50 yards away from the service, making it nearly impossible for reporters and photographers to cover the event. Since the colonel’s relatives had approved the presence of media at the burial, Gray tried to move the press closer, but her attempt was “shot down by other cemetery officials,” she claimed.
Gray also has claimed Higginbotham called the families of the dead to encourage them not to allow media coverage at the funerals—a charge a high-ranking official at Arlington has confirmed.
At the time, officials at the Defense Department claimed the policy regarding media coverage at Arlington has not changed in years. But Dana Milbank at The Washington Post says that’s not true, pointing out that at least until 2005, reporters were allowed close enough to burials to hear eulogies and observe flag-folding ceremonies.
On March 5, 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a change of policy that included media coverage of coffin arrivals with family permission.
Gina Gray has filed a lawsuit against the Army and the Army Criminal Investigation Command, claiming that her Arlington email account had been accessed without her permission and that someone had sent out a message using her name. Gray is asking for the release of the final Army investigatory report regarding her case.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Army Reports on Firing Wanted in Lawsuit (by Ben Conery, Washington Times)
Putting Her Foot Down and Getting the Boot (by Dana Milbank, Washington Post)


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