By Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, (12/17/08) - Starting early next year, the Army will allow full military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for all soldiers killed in action.
Full military honors include a caisson, band, colors team and an escort platoon in addition to the standard honors of a firing party, bugler and chaplain. In the past, the caisson was available only for officers killed in action because of limited availability, Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, said.
The cemetery has two caissons, or horse-drawn vehicles, which now will be available for officers and enlisted soldiers killed in action on a first-come, first-served basis, Boyce said. The limited availability may delay the funerals, he said, so families of deceased soldiers may decide to go forward with the funeral earlier without a caisson.
In response to requests from families of deceased servicemembers, soldiers and veterans, Army officials have been looking at changing the policy for military honors at Arlington since April, Boyce said. Having the change in place now means the policy will take effect early next year.
"This brings a much more common standard to anyone who is killed in action or the family of anyone killed in action who want to use Arlington National Cemetery," he said.
The policy change affects only funerals at Arlington, Boyce said, because Arlington is the only military cemetery controlled by the Department of the Army and has unique assets. It also only applies to soldiers killed as a result of:
"Arlington National Cemetery is an expression of our nation's reverence for those who served her in uniform, many making the ultimate sacrifice," Army Secretary Pete Geren said in an Army news release. "Arlington and those honored there are part of our national heritage. This new policy provides a common standard for honoring all soldiers killed in action."
More than 300,000 people, including veterans from all the nation's wars, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery conducts about 6,400 burials each year.
The new policy applies only to soldiers, though officials are awaiting word from the other services on whether they wish to adopt a similar policy.