HOUSTON -- Officials at Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio are investigating an incident in which more than a dozen airmen posed for a photo next to a metal case used to transport deceased service members home from war.
In the photo, one airman can be seen at the center of about a dozen uniformed comrades, posing inside the open case with a white noose and black chain around his neck.
"Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt. Sucks 2 Be U!" is written at the bottom of the photo.
"We take this matter seriously," Air Force Secretary Mike Donley said Thursday in a written statement. Donley said the Air Force had "initiated a commander-directed investigation."
The airmen pictured were part of an air transportation training unit stationed at Ft. Lee, Va., working under the command of the 37th Training Group at Lackland, said Gerry Proctor, a spokesman at the base.
The groups traditionally take informal photos at the end of their training, but it was not clear if this was such a photo, he said.
The picture was taken Aug. 23 at the Fort. Lee Air Transport Apprentice School and posted on Facebook in October, Proctor said. It went viral this week, prompting Air Force officials to launch the internal investigation.
The airmen were part of a monthlong aerial porter training program for the 345th Training Squadron at Fort. Lee, where specialists learn to manage freight and transfer cases, Pentagon spokesman Todd Spitler said.
Proctor said the photo was posted on individual Facebook pages, not on any official Air Force pages. He said it was not clear when or why it was removed, but that it did not meet Air Force guidelines for social media postings.
"It doesn't meet our values or the expectations that we have for the people in the Air Force," he said.
Proctor declined to say whether the airmen in the photo have cooperated with the investigation. So far, he said, none has been disciplined. The investigation is expected to take at least several weeks, he said.
(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)
The controversial Facebook photo came to light in part because of the outrage it sparked among service members, including Staff Sgt. Elias Bonilla, who alerted military officials to the photo.
"I cannot help but picture the faces of my dead 1/8soldiers 3/8 that we drug out of burning vehicles, dug out from collapsed buildings," Bonilla wrote in an email to Air Force Times.
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services