KABUL, Afghanistan - An Army sergeant complained in a rare opinion article that the U.S. flag flew at half-staff last week at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to fallen U.S. troops here and in Iraq.
In the article issued yesterday by the public-affairs office at Bagram military base north of Kabul, Sgt. Jim Wilt lamented that his comrades' deaths have become a mere blip on the TV screen, lacking the "shock factor" to be honored by the Stars and Stripes as the deaths at Virginia Tech were.
"I find it ironic that the flags were flown at half-staff for the young men and women who were killed at VT, yet it is never lowered for the death of a U.S. service member," Wilt wrote.
He noted that Bagram obeyed President Bush's order last week that all U.S. flags at federal locations be flown at half-staff through April 22 to honor 32 people killed at Virginia Tech by a 23-year-old student gunman who then killed himself.
According to the Defense Department, 315 U.S. service members have died in and around Afghanistan since the U.S.-led offensive that toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001, 198 of them in combat.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said that the flags of all of its troop-contributing nations were flown at half-staff for about 72 hours after the service member's death "as a mark of respect when there is an ISAF fatality."
Sgt. First Class Dean Welch, who works with Wilt at the U.S.-led coalition public-affairs office, said the essay was a "soldier's commentary, not the view of the coalition and not the view of the U.S. forces."
Welch added that such outspoken opinion pieces were rare.
Wilt suggested that flags should fly at half-staff on the base where the fallen service member was working and in the states where they hail from. He said some states did this but not all of them.
He wrote that the death of a U.S. service member was just as violent as those at the university, but it lacked the "shock factor of the Virginia massacre."
"People have come to expect casualty counts in the nightly news; they don't expect to see 32 students killed," he wrote.