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Media allowed to witness return of war casualty

Monday, April 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

DOVER, Del. — The media will be allowed to cover the arrival Sunday of an airman killed overseas, the first such opportunity since the Obama administration overturned an 18-year ban on news coverage of returning war dead.

After receiving permission from family members, Air Force officials planned to open Dover Air Force Base for the media to observe the return of the flag-covered coffin carrying the body of 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Va. Myers was killed April 4 near Helmand province, Afghanistan, after being hit from an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense said.

Myers, a member of the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron, was awarded a Bronze Star in recognition for his efforts in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Department of Defense said. His body was expected to return at 11 p.m.

The new Pentagon policy gives families a choice of whether to admit the press to ceremonies at Dover, home to the nation's largest military mortuary and the entry point to the United States for service personnel killed overseas.

Critics of the previous policy had said the government was trying to hide the human cost of war.

President Barack Obama had asked for a review of the ban, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the blanket restriction made him uncomfortable. The administration will let families decide whether to allow photographs.

For example, if several caskets arrive on the same flight, news coverage will be allowed only for those whose families have given permission.

The ban was put in place by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf War. From the start, it was cast as a way to shield grieving families.

One objection to lifting the ban had been that if the media were present, some families might feel obligated to come to Dover for the brief, solemn ritual in which honor guards carry the caskets off a plane. Few families now choose to attend, in part because doing so means leaving home and the support system of friends at a difficult time. The sudden trip can also be expensive and logistically difficult to arrange.

It was unclear whether anyone from Myers' family would be at the ceremony.


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