So What’s The Big Deal About A Symbol?

  Words by Mike Weisbecker.

This week a picture from sometime up to three years ago has been rocketing around social media and now the press (to include overseas media) of an Air Force senior airman (E-4) with her tongue sticking out over the mouth of the POW silhouette on the POW/MIA flag.  It’s reached a point of uproar that the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force has had to make a statement and get involved with a command directed investigation.

Some of the chatter on forums state that the individual in question has already been punished.  She herself has made a statement that she has been meted her punishment and moved on and that we (as her critics on social media) should move on.  The individual was reportedly a member of the base’s Honor Guard (as denoted by the aiguillette on her left shoulder in the picture). 

This brings up my first nit to pick: 

What possessed a member of the base Honor Guard to think doing this would be cute or funny? 

Some defending her bring up that we did dumb stuff as young troops (and not so young, truth be known) and that it’s no big deal.  However… My dumb stuff never involved desecrating a symbol as powerful as the POW/MIA flag.  The level of outrage from vets on this is pretty strong (it takes a lot of noise to knock the soap opera that is the ICBM force nowadays out of the headlines).

32 U.S. Prisoners of War held by the North Vietnamese are released at Hanoi's Gia Lam Airfield on March 16, 1973. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

Next nit:

The Air Force has this little thing called the Wingman concept. 

It boils down to what we called back in the Bronze Age of the Cold War: taking care of each other.  Except nowadays it gets churched to death and beaten into you with buzzwords and phrases the Kool Aid drinkers like to bandy about.  But I digress.  Someone took that photo.  Probably another airman in the same honor guard.  So her wingman failed her.  Big time.

So should we (as members of the military past and present and their supporters) be this upset by this picture?  After all the POW/MIA flag is just a symbol.  I am surprised at some of the defenses along this line.  People burn flags so why should we get upset at this?  It’s just a symbol and a majority of people just mindlessly get behind a symbol without realizing what is behind it.  These are active duty and vets saying this.  I’ll give you my two cents.   The folks saying that are wrong.  Everyone in the military knows what the meaning of the POW/MIA flag is.  Anyone who has been to a formal military dinner has seen the table ceremony for POW/MIA’s.   We older folks have met POW’s.  Some of us have family who spent time as guests of Germany, Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.  She brought discredit to the service as well as the military overall by her actions.  Symbols mean something.  Hopefully she and the others will understand this one day.



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