SPECIAL DEFENSE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING
SUBJECT: THE ARMY INSPECTOR GENERAL'S REVIEW OF MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
BRIEFERS: SECRETARY OF THE ARMY JOHN MCHUGH; LIEUTENANT GENERAL R. STEVEN WHITCOMB, INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE ARMY; KATHRYN CONDON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ARMY NATIONAL CEMETERIES PROGRAM;
LOCATION: PENTAGON BRIEFING ROOM, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA
TIME: 2:00 P.M. EDT
DATE: THURSDAY, JUNE 10, 2010
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, good afternoon. I'm Secretary of the Army John McHugh. I'm joined today at the table by the inspector general of the Army, Lieutenant General Steven Whitcomb, and Ms. Kathy -- Kathryn Condon, who's a member of the Army's Senior Executive Service.
So I'm just going to make a few opening comments and then go to your questions.
On November 12th of last year, I directed the inspector general to conduct an inspection of the operations at Arlington National Cemetery, to include the following areas of inquiry: operational policy and procedures; management, administration and coordination; synergy of command and coordination processes; and compliance with Army IT standards and protocols.
The inspection also focused upon the following significant allegations: hostile work environment; inappropriate hiring practices; improper interment and transinterment of remains, including noncompliance with internal regulations, policies and accountability.
At 4:00 on Tuesday June 8th, I formally received and accepted the inspector general's report. I've directed that these two reports be posted online. And they'll be available at www.army.mil/arlington immediately following this conference.
At the outset, I'd like to underscore the many positive aspects of the operations at Arlington that the IG and his team observed. As the report notes, the funeral operations in Arlington are performed by a dedicated, caring staff who conduct an average of 27 funerals a day, often four at the same time, including some eight ceremonies a day involving full military honors that employ caisson, escort platoon, marching band, bugler and firing team support.
Incredibly this pace is further burdened by the fact that Arlington National Cemetery is the number-one memorial in the United States, with some 4 million visitors each and every year.
It's a special place that hosts international presidents, prime ministers, royalty and other dignitaries who participate in an average of eight wreath-laying ceremonies a day at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
As the report notes, and I quote, "Employees rightfully view honoring the fallen and supporting families as a priority mission. And all employees will do all it takes to ensure mission success and accomplishment."
The report also observes, current cemetery personnel work outside the scope of their job description, working extended hours and making last-minute changes to fix unforeseen issues.
In short, from the finely maintained rows of white markers, to the silent awe-inspiring Tomb of the Unknowns, to the solemn dignity of more than two dozen daily tributes to fallen American heroes, the pride that is Arlington is a direct product of an overworked, and I think sadly too often, little-recognized and dedicated staff.
And for all its failings and shortcomings, this report is, in my view, a tribute to their achievement. And I thank them for their dedication, devotion and hard work.
More than anything else, it's because of the many departed heroes who are the story of Arlington, the fallen warriors of years and conflicts past, and their sons and daughters, who even today add to that heroic roster. Because of them, the majority of these findings in this report are both deeply troubling and simply unacceptable.
The report renders 76 separate findings, attended by some 101 recommendations, some of which, disturbingly, are a repeat of the deficiencies detailed in a 1997 inspection report by the military district of Washington's IG, deficiencies which currently have gone largely unaddressed for the past 12 years.
In sum, the IG found Arlington's mission hampered by dysfunctional management, a lack of established policy and procedures, and an overall unhealthy organizational climate. The report also determined the improper interment and transinterment of remains, to include the loss of accountability of remains, remains in graves listed as empty, unmarked gravesites, improperly marked graves and improper handling of cremated remains. That all ends today.
As a result of these findings, I've directed the following actions. First of all, I've created by immediate order the position of executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program. I've charged this position with total supervisory powers pertaining to all business and operational activities associated with Army cemeteries.
A copy of the order creating this position and detailing its authorities will also be available to you online.
I've appointed Ms. Kathryn Condon, one of the Army's most experienced, most respected members of the Senior Executive Service, to immediately assume the position of executive director. In her previous assignments, Ms. Condon served as the senior civilian overseeing the Army Materiel Command, one of the largest commands in the Army with more than 60,000 employees (inaudible) 149 locations worldwide. More recently, Ms. Condon has been the lead senior executive working with the undersecretary of the Army, Dr. Joe Westphal, in his capacity as the Army's chief management officer.
I have charged Ms. Condon to address the deficiencies cited in the IG's report, and initiate those actions to implement the recommendations cited in General Whitcomb's findings. As a result of this action, I have placed the current superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery under Ms. Condon's direct supervision for the remainder of his tenure in the Army. I've also placed in the superintendent's official personnel file a written reprimand for his actions, and I've directed a review of his annual performance evaluation award, which I had earlier held in abeyance, pending the inspector general's inquiry, in contemplation of a downward adjustment.
In addition, I have placed the deputy superintendent at Arlington on immediate administrative leave pending the completion a -- completion of other personnel actions. I designated the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to review the reports and decide whether any further disciplinary action is warranted.
I'm enormously grateful to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki for his gracious support in this challenging time.
Secretary Shinseki has agreed to make expert personnel within the Veterans Administration's National Cemetery Administration available to assist at Arlington in the near term effective and orderly continuation of vital duties and operations. I particularly appreciate Secretary Shinseki's detailing of the VA's director of Office of Field Programs, Mr. Patrick K. Hallinan, to assist Ms. Condon to ensure that all services, particularly as they relate to funeral operations, continue without interruption.
Next, I've ordered the creation of the Army National Cemetery's Advisory Commission to act as an independent oversight authority to provide a regimented review of all near- and long-term activities at Arlington. This body will act in an advisory capacity modeled after similar authorities extended to various oversight boards associated with a wide array of organizations, such as the three national service academies operated by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
I'm deeply grateful that former United States Senators Bob Dole and Max Cleland have graciously agreed to lend their expertise to this endeavor and assist in the stand-up and proper structure of this new organization so that it can effectively meet its vital mission. As is known widely, these two gentlemen are true American heroes, men whose service in uniform and achievements in both public and private service are well-known and deeply admired. And both the Army and I are enormously grateful that these two incredible individuals have once again in their lives agreed to step forward in service to others and in service to this nation.
As to the negative findings of the report, there's simply no excuse. And on behalf of the United States Army and on behalf of myself, I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones.
To the men and women of the -- who wear the uniform of the United States; to all citizens of this great nation who believe, as I do, that Arlington National Cemetery is the most sacred place on this planet, the Army owes better.
I'm unable to explain the past, but I can promise this about the future. The United States Army will take every step necessary to fully ensure that every challenge, every need at Arlington is clearly understood and effectively addressed. We will initiate those steps necessary to best correct yesterday's oversight and meet tomorrow's requirement. We owe no less to our departed heroes, no less to the loved ones of this nation who, when the call was sounded, stepped forward to serve, answered with love and dedication. For them, for their loved ones and for this nation, the better tomorrows for Arlington National Cemetery begin today.
I would be happy to take your questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, most of the fixes that you discussed seem to be prospective. Do you have any idea how many people at Arlington are either in unmarked graves or are in graves with incorrect headstones' Do you have a ballpark idea'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, as I'm sure you appreciate, I received this report on Tuesday. One of the charges in the creation of the new position for Ms. Condon is to set a baseline of assurance, to find the best way forward, to answer the very question that you just posed.
I think the inspector general can talk to you about the findings that his report made, a finding based on various sources and some various bits of information that discuss 211 graves where there were issues of misidentification or improper record-keeping.
But if the inspector general would like to comment more on that'
GEN. WHITCOMB: Mr. Secretary, that's correct. We had roughly a dozen individual cases that were brought to our attention by family members, by employees as well as by various elements in the media. During the course of the inspections, the secretary laid out -- we went through, talked to both former and current employees at Arlington, and identified, primarily in three sections -- section 59, 65 and 66 -- potential gravesites that were either unmarked, and we had analog records, physical records, that there perhaps were remains interred there or gravesites that were marked, but we did not have that record.
We did not follow through in each one of those cases. That will be left to Ms. Condon, as she develops that.
Q And what's the way to do that'
GEN. WHITCOMB: You can obviously physically disinter the remains; we could use X-rays to go down and determine if there, in fact, would be a coffin located there. And there are other, more scientific methods available. But that's as far as went at this point.
Q Do you know whether you'll be disinterring or doing the ground-penetrating radar'
GEN. WHITCOMB: I think that's premature at this point. We aren't -- and I think once Ms. Condon takes this report and analyzes what needs to be done, then that's --
Q Because just to be clear, I mean, they've used -- during the course of my investigation, they've used ground-penetrating radar before to try to see who's there. The problem, of course, is that ground-penetrating radar shows you that somebody's there, but they don't show you who's there. And my sources that are familiar with operations say the problem is that, if you go down, each casket has usually a nameplate, and you got guys in the Class A's. If you go down and look, you go down and the headstone doesn't match, then you find out that those remains are over here.
And then you have to go down and those remains are over here. And so it's a domino effect. But if you don't do that, ground-penetrating radar doesn't tell you that much.
SEC. MCHUGH: We recognize the complexity of the issue. What our plan is is to take it in its entirety, to assess the best way forward to, as I said, establish a baseline of accountability. We're not prepared to make a commitment as to what that means right now, because we want to have all possibilities on the table and consider them fully.
Q Why did the Army, sir, wait till November of 2009 to launch this investigation, when it was made aware of problems at the cemetery as early as December of 2008, by former Public Affairs Officer Gina Gray'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, when I -- I came to the building in September of -- 21st of 2001 (sic, he meant 2009). I cannot fully account for all the thought processes prior to that, but I can tell you my predecessor, Pete Geren, had initiated an inspector general report. That was under way. So I don't think, at least from what I know, anyone ignored or failed to respond to anything.
The action that I took was in one instance a consolidation of the then ongoing report and an expansion based on things that had come to the Army's attention and my attention after that fact. So, beyond that or past that, I'm not sure what the answers are, but there was already action under way in 2009 when I arrived in the Pentagon.
Q Could either of you describe who some of these soldiers are or who some of the remains might belong to' Is this as recent as -- I mean, are these Civil War-era graves' Are these Iraq war veterans'
And also if you would just give us some more background on how something like this could happen. How did they mix up graves' I just don't understand.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Well, first, we would not give the names. I don't have the names to give. And second, I would not provide them.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. WHITCOMB: Yeah.
Q Is it recent' Are they recent graves'
GEN. WHITCOMB: There were two mismarked graves in Section 60, which primarily holds Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers or service members. Those were corrected. Those were more -- I won't say -- nothing is administrative, but they were headstone issues.
The other grave sites are older. I'm not prepared to say they go back to the Civil War, but they're older grave sites in some sections where there may not be as active -- the number of burials as others. We do have what information we've got, which is based on this card system, or what we don't have, which is also based on a card system. And we'll further take a look at that.
In terms of your question, "How could this happen'" in burial sites the -- an individual going in could be buried, the proper procedures could be followed in terms of putting the headstone on that grave site. Over a period of years, a lawn mower could back into it. The headstone could be damaged and removed in a -- temporarily and not replace it and a permanent one not be ordered. So over a period of time, you could lose that kind of control.
You could have multiple burials in the same site. A family has an option if a spouse is buried there, if a service member -- may have their spouse and children buried concurrently. It's not necessarily stacked on top of each other -- maybe position the coffins around the center coffin. If that's not done precisely well and in accordance with the procedures and recommended policies, you may have a casket that could bleed over into another burial site. And when you then dig into that, what is considered or thought to be an unoccupied site, you may discover a casket.
If you don't dig far enough, you may not realize that it's only part of a casket.
So those are just two of the ways that that could have in fact happened.
SEC. MCHUGH: This has been an active cemetery since the 1860s, when General Montgomery Meigs ordered the burial of some of the Civil War fallen. I think your question is very appropriate. But I think 100-some-plus years suggest there's no one answer.
We need to do everything we can, to understand the answers where they are discernible. But equally if not more important as I've said is to try correct those errors and provide assurance to families. And we will be doing that and working through those issues. And that's one of the main charges Ms. Condon will be dealing with.
Q Mr. Secretary, can we be clear on this number, 211, that you used' I think you called them cases, graves where there are issues of accountability. Are we -- are we talking about cases where you know remains have been misplaced, misidentified' Or are you talking about cases where the paperwork is incomplete or missing'
What exactly are these 211'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, I think I should defer to the inspector general. And it's a matter of questions of assurance.
But General Whitcomb.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, it is both.
It is in interviewing individuals that work at Arlington, that may not be involved in the interment of folks. And they have other support jobs. They've said, in this particular section, I know that there are graves here, and there's no headstones. Or there are headstones I think maybe in this section, and we can't find the burial card that corresponds to that particular plot in Arlington.
And so we went back to each one of those to get a general feel for what the challenges were and the issues. And we did not take each one individually at this point during our inspection and go through each case to try and confirm or deny whether in fact there were inaccuracies, but it was a blanket shot.
And back to your question, there have been -- as the secretary stated, over 330,000 interments at Arlington since 1864. There have been over 100,000 since 1990, and you know of the statistics of 27 to 33 a day. Just as a point of reference, as you all recall, when the federal government was shut down in January because of snow storms, and no one came to work, there were 34 burials that took place at Arlington during that -- that period. So it -- this is a continuous process. But it gets a bit to your answer. Since 1990, there have been 100,000 interments -- almost a third.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said that it stops today. What -- when was the most recent -- in this report, when was the most recent error made and --
SEC. MCHUGH: Error as to --'
Q Error as to one of these 211 sort of mismarked or, you know -- one of these anomalies here. And how can -- and given that, how can you assure us that this is not going to happen, you know, going forward' What are the immediate steps to prevent it'
SEC. MCHUGH: I'll defer to the inspector general as to the most recent date of a -- of a grave of the 211. I don't -- I don't know that.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, I don't -- I don't have a precise date. They're in the course of our inspection, which started in August of 2009, and recently completed.
We had several incidents brought to us that occurred during that period of time with either an unmarked grave or a grave that was improperly marked, brought to us by a family member, or a burial urn that was improperly uncovered. So that's -- without precise dates, that's the (inaudible) of it.
SEC. MCHUGH: As to the first part of your question, the intent of the majority of steps I've ordered today are designed to make sure that we do things absolutely correctly from this point forward. I mentioned Ms. Condon and her abilities. They focused particularly on the administrative side, and in large measure the accountability issues on grave sites are administrative. And I have full confidence in her ability to ensure that we go in an absolute proper fashion from this day forward.
Beyond that, we're bringing in, as, again, I talked about, very substantial support for her. The folks in the Veterans Administration who, through the various VA cemeteries conduct some 6,000 funerals a year -- and we feel very comfortable that they will assist us in ensuring that the proper procedures are followed and records are kept in an appropriate way.
Q Mr. Secretary, did you review, look into the allegations that some employees' e-mails were illegally hacked into and that there may have been false statements made to Army criminal investigators'
SEC. MCHUGH: My understanding is, that was the subject of an earlier investigation --
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, that's the subject of a different investigation than the IG investigation. That is still ongoing.
SEC. MCHUGH: It's still ongoing and it's open. I'm aware of that.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Yes, sir.
Q I'd like to ask the general -- (coughs) -- sorry; my voice is going -- but here's the question. Are you satisfied that these 211 are the absolute final number that -- of problems you're going to find'
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, I'm --
Q Or could there be many more among the 300,000'
GEN. WHITCOMB: I don't know that there could be many more. But there could, in fact, be more. That's what we were able to substantiate during the course of the inspection.
Q Sir --
Q General, again, I want to get back to Ann's (Flaherty, Associated Press) question about what era these guys are -- what war they were involved in. You mentioned section 60, those two that just sort of flip-flopped; you mentioned section 59, 65 and 66. Can you say whether there were war dead from the current conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, who were in -- who have either (been) mislabeled or were any of these 211 anomalies in those three sections'
GEN. WHITCOMB: No, sir, not in the three sections I cited. What I cited was, in section 60, where a preponderance of the current war dead are interred, there were two anomalies that were identified and fixed.
Q The only incidents of where war dead involved in the current conflict -- those two --
GEN. WHITCOMB: The only incidents I'm aware of, sir. You could have someone that died during the current conflict and perhaps had a spouse or parent or for some reason wanted to be interred in an existing spot somewhere. And -- but I'm not aware of those.
Q Sections -- those sections are from previous conflicts, those three'
GEN. WHITCOMB: Yes, sir. Those three sections I cited are the ones where we got the preponderance of the unsure of -- not sure whether there is someone buried there or whether there's not someone buried there. And so there --
Q And are you able to -- are you able to narrow those down to specific dates to figure out what may or may not have been the problem during the particular --
GEN. WHITCOMB: Not as -- not as of this point, sir. I believe that we will be able to come much closer once a further look at it is done.
SEC. MCHUGH ('): And the problem is, when the records are unclear, it's unclear as to what the vintage is.
Q Mr. Secretary, my --
SEC. MCHUGH: I'm going to -- excuse me, you've already -- there was a hand back over here.
SEC. MCHUGH: Yes, sir.
Q I'm just trying to clarify whether the deficiencies that you found are of current vintage. Or are these deficiencies that are from another era'
SEC. MCHUGH: Which deficiencies are we speaking of, any'
Q Well, you say that the mislabeling of these graves were as a result of deficiencies, that deficiencies were found in the handling of these interments. But since it appears that most of these graves are from an earlier era, I'm trying to get a sense of whether the faults that you found were from an earlier era or whether they're something more current.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, I mean, I think I could conversely address this.
A snowstorm that's four feet deep in 1956 or '43, and you've got a number of them ongoing, you may slide to the right one site. And that becomes an error that you can't fix.
I'm not saying that happened. I'm simply saying that may be an issue. We are still using at Arlington an analog method, a card system to verify what's there, what isn't there, when it happened, what changes were made.
That was a substantial piece of one of our findings, is we need to bring the recordskeeping at Arlington into the 21st century. And there are -- we looked not only at Arlington. We looked at veterans cemeteries, we looked at battlefield monument cemeteries.
We went to several of the busier civilian cemeteries to assess, how do they operate' And Arlington by far is busier than anyplace with over 6,700 interments a year. But what kind of techniques and tactics and policies do they have in place'
And so to answer your question, yes, I think it's all of the above. Clearly we found nothing that was intentional, criminal intent or intended sloppiness that caused this -- not that kind of culpability, intended willful disregard for the responsibility. But as the secretary pointed out, this is a zero defect -- of all the things in the world, we view this as a zero-defect operation.
Q (Off mike) -- given the fact that (inaudible) in an analog fashion' Mr. Secretary, you certainly remember from your time on the Hill, a lot of money, millions were -- have been appropriated for the -- (off mike) -- cemetery management system.
GEN. WHITCOMB: Yeah.
Q How much money has been appropriated toward the system' And why the delay in implementing that' I think it's a year or two now past the date when it was supposed to be in place. What's up' Did you find anything in that regard'
GEN. WHITCOMB: That was part of the finding --
SEC. MCHUGH: Yeah.
GEN. WHITCOMB: -- is that we had not integrated a -- did not have a coherent information-technology acquisition strategy or plan, and that dollars had been invested over the years. And we didn't have a workable and effective product to utilize. And so we didn't go into the specific -- in our investigation did not go into specific dollar amounts. We identified the problem. Again -- (inaudible) -- that will be part of Ms. Condon's analysis.
Q Is that part of the other investigation, and to possible allegations of -- (off mike)'
GEN. WHITCOMB: If -- sir, if I could, just to clarify, there were two separate efforts. The first was the inspection, which really was a comprehensive management review, if you will, of systemic issues at Arlington. And they were the issues that Secretary McHugh laid out. Secretary Geren, in August of 2009, asked us to look three of them -- look at three of them.
When Secretary McHugh came in, he said, "I want to add two more: information technology and the contracting piece. And I want this to be a more holistic, comprehensive management review." So we looked at the inspection portion, at systems in place and how did they operate.
Separately, Mr. McHugh asked us to look -- to do an investigation. There were allegations of misconduct. And so that was done by a separate team, a separate portion of the DAIG team, a separate division that does that. And that is not looking at criminal misconduct, but it's looking at allegations of misconduct, failure to comply with the standards and regulations and those types of things.
So we had, in fact, two: the inspection initially started by the former secretary in August of 2009, expanded by Secretary McHugh; the investigation started in the November-December time frame when Secretary McHugh directed we have two looks.
Q And is that separate investigation also looking into the contracting that was involved in attempting to put a computerized system into place'
GEN. WHITCOMB: It is, sir. The inspection identified: You've got problems with modernizing your IT programs. The investigation looked at: You've got problems modernizing your IT programs; you have spent money; who oversaw the contract, those types of things, so --
SEC. MCHUGH: Sir.
Q Mr. Secretary -- (Off mike) -- read the dollars --
STAFF: Let's go over here.
Q I guess the big question is, why hasn't anyone been fired'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, first of all, in terms of the process forward, we have rules and regulations as to how personnel actions are discharged. As I mentioned, there are other findings, including findings against the deputy superintendent, that are -- will be worked by the -- by the assistant secretary of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
As to Mr. Metzler, he has chosen to retire. His retirement is imminent. And we felt that the actions against him with respect to the letter of reprimand, with respect to the taking away of his supervisory and administrative authorities, as well as a review of potential monetary awards he may have received, are appropriate given the context and the content of the findings. There's nothing that precludes further action, but that is subject to the discharge of the disciplinary procedure.
Q Well, with 211 mistakes, possibly more, this sounds extraordinary lenient, to let the superintendent retire even with some reduced benefits, and then to put the deputy superintendent on administrative leave. I will -- again the question, if this is such a massive failure, why hasn't someone been -- said, "You're not retiring; you're gone; clean up your desk."
SEC. MCHUGH: As I said, first of all, the 211 graves have not been ascribed against any individual. Second of all, as I said, we have a process within the United States Army, and in fact, within the United States military, by which we need to go forward in terms of discipline. That's ongoing. But I don't think it's accurate or, frankly, fair to say what has or hasn't happened yet. This is a report that was received on Tuesday. We continue to work it. And the contemplation of disciplinary proceedings across the board are continuing.
Sir. Yes, sir.
Q Mr. Secretary, has anybody in the past or is anybody in the future going to look into who in the Army, in addition to just Mr. Metzler and Mr. Higgenbotham, knew what and when they knew it'
I mean, in other words, you've got an Army facility in the Military District of Washington, which oversees Arlington National Cemetery. And there's certainly a general there who's in charge, whose job is to make sure it runs okay.
Is anybody going to look into whether Army officials knew or should have known about these problems, which obviously have been going on for some time'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, I'll leave a fuller legal response to General Whitcomb. But from everything I've seen, there's no indication or path to pursue there. Should that change and should information come to our attention, certainly that will happen.
When you have a chance to go to the website and look at the standup order I have issued, with respect to the new supervisory position, I think you'll see a pretty detailed menu of things that I expect the new supervisor to follow forward with.
And that would be a place where at least in part we would find out if any path or any indication of those kinds of things exists. So again this is -- this is in my judgment the end of the failures. But it isn't the end of what we're learning and our way forward.
This is going to be going on for some time. But we felt it was important in the sense of full disclosure. And I think those of you who have been through similar circumstances, in the past, would agree it's fairly, if not totally, unprecedented to post the documents in their entirety that we're going to post here from day one.
We want to be as transparent as possible first of all, to be fair with the media of course ,but more importantly to show the loved ones of the fallen that we are deadly serious about fixing this.
Q On the question of when these 211 cases might have occurred, you said the majority of the cases were in '59, '65 and '66. What years were those --
GEN. WHITCOMB: Sir, I don't know what years, and I quite honestly don't have more details in front of me or, you know, the precise timelines. As you know, we don't necessarily, you know, fill the rows by year. It's based on a number of factors. So I'm just not prepared to answer that.
SEC. MCHUGH: And that goes back to the point I made earlier. We can't tell you that which we don't know.
Section 60 -- where, as the inspector general noted, is the place where fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan are being interred and honored -- is a little unique in that past sections were not as homogenous. So when you have a question or a discrepancy about the site and about the presence or no -- not presence of remains, it's at least for the moment pretty difficult, not impossible, to give it a date.
Q These anomalies or mistakes or discrepancies did not all -- most -- for the most part did not occur during the internment but in years --- years later, when things got knocked over or records got lost' It wasn't like there was a problem with the burial or the immediate aftermath of the burial'
GEN. WHITCOMB: Not that -- anything we found during the inspection or the investigation.
Now one of the cases we found was a -- you can have a coffin and if the other person is cremated, then you can still bury both the coffin and the urn in the same grave site if it's a family member. And we've had several cases where, for some reason, they've gone back in, either to bury perhaps a third family member or to put a coffin in after the urn was there, where the urn was scooped up, put in an area where we put dirt during funerals and then fill in after the ceremony is over, and in a couple of cases found burial urns that had been exhumed and put in this spillage pile, is what we called it.
Part of, I think, the ongoing process is how are funeral urns marked, because in not all cases have they been marked; where are they placed, and I have no idea whether they should be at the head of the coffin, at the foot, upper left. I mean those are, I think, systemic things that we can look at and make that kind of determination to where it goes. Was the urn at four feet, three feet, five feet' And again, there are standards. It all depends on where they go.
A headstone improperly placed, it was improperly filled out, may be something as easily fixable as a misspelled name or date or something along that line, to improper headstone on the wrong grave site. And a family -- and we've had reports -- and this is part of what came out and caused this inspection and investigation -- of, that's not where my husband or son was buried; or, this came to -- I brought this to Arlington's attention years ago, and it hasn't been fixed.
So there's a whole combination of efforts, but no indication that at the point of burial, mistakes were made.
SEC. MCHUGH: And again, when you're dealing with a cemetery operation that has been active for more than 140 years, there could be any number of reasons why the discrepancy occurred. Our interest is to discover those reasons where we can, but more importantly, to try to match and bring that baseline of assurance I spoke about, both in terms of what has occurred to this point and, equally important, what goes forward.
I promised this gentleman in the back.
Q Mr. Secretary, General, do you have any estimate at this time when the families, when the public, can be assured that everyone is where they should be, that this has been fixed'
SEC. MCHUGH: Well, over 300,000 gravesites from 1864 -- I don't know if anyone can ever assure everyone that circumstances are perfect. And I think you could say that about any cemetery in America.
But what we can tell the family members is we're going to make every effort to ensure, and examine every possible technology and approach and system by which we can achieve that; and also, as I said, to ensure, equally importantly, that from today forward, that we are doing this in an appropriate fashion and in one which does not cause questions of a similar nature to arise.
Now, for those family members -- and this is important -- who may have a question about their loved one -- and I have to tell you, for the vast majority of gravesites, we feel with pretty good confidence there are not issues. But things have occurred, and where they have a question, they should call 703-607-8000, and press 0, and we have people on call who can direct their loved ones to the proper information. And register any questions or concerns, so that if we don't have the answers immediately, we'll do everything we can to develop them.
STAFF: Sir, I think we've got time for two more.
SEC. MCHUGH: Two more' Couldn't say one more.
Q (Off mike) -- Inspector General. What was the most depressing thing you found in this'
GEN. WHITCOMB: Well, I'll answer two question(s).
First, the most impressive thing is that -- and this gets to a piece of the issue. When you look and watch at Arlington, over the years, we're all enormously proud and impressed with how those four or five ceremonies that take place together within literally hours of each other are conducted. Every single internment at Arlington, the 27 or so a day, is done to ensure that it's done -- to the family it is -- appears as if it's the most important burial going on that day. And that's done. And that was part of it. We watch this when -- as we watch the president or the king or the prime minister lay a wreath. It's done at a(n) extremely high quality. And so from that standpoint, I think that's impressive. And the American public should be reassured that that is going to continue.
The most depressing thing is that this would happen. As I said, this is -- in our Army's mind and as a soldier, this is a zero-defect operation. This is the final act for our fallen or their family members.
Having participated in repatriation ceremonies at Dover, where that's the first place that currently fallen trooper lands on United States soil -- and that's the first reassurance in most families that their loved one is being escorted and taken care of properly. We see that all the way through. And so the most depressing part is that we failed as an Army in that mission. And as the secretary pointed out, that's a -- that's a burden he and I carry, and our Army carries. But we're moving ahead with it.
SEC. MCHUGH: Just to give -- just to give some context to that, I attend every funeral when a soldier falls, by any means, in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was there on Monday for the most recent interment. I will be there tomorrow for the next.
As I stood there at the gravesite of the Army fallen, within seconds of each other, I heard three volleys of 21-gun salutes. That shows the pace that these employees have been laboring under.
And yet as the inspector general noted very correctly, they were done in a way in which every one of those family members, in those three services, felt as they should, that their hero was being properly acknowledged.
The staff has done an amazing job. And I just for the record want to say, after we've concluded this event, Ms. Condon and I will go down to Arlington and hold a town-hall meeting with the staff, to make that very clear.
Tomorrow, Arlington needs to discharge its duties. Tomorrow, it will provide appropriate honors to 30 fallen heroes and pay the respects to their families. That for us in the 10-meter range is job number one.
So it warms one's heart in a very sad way to see that kind of tribute, understanding of course, the enormous sacrifice it took to bring you to that moment.
Q I just wanted to try one last time on this topic.
What -- can you address directly what the failures were of Higgenbotham and Metzler' Why -- although you haven't decided to fire either of them, it sounds like, what were their shortcomings specifically'
Can you tell us about these two individuals and why --
SEC. MCHUGH: Posted on the website, along with the other documents that I mentioned, will be my letter of admonishment to Mr. Metzler.
You can go there and see the details of that. And they are all obviously a derivative of the inspector general's findings.
As to Mr. Higgenbotham, as I said, there is a due process that he is entitled to. And we are following forward with that. And it is both custom and, I think, appropriate that we provide to him his due as to presumptions of innocence and we don't talk about what he did and what he's accused of and what he will be found failing for until that has completed.
Q Sir, thanks.
SEC. MCHUGH: Thank you all very much.
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