Arlington National Cemetery running out of space

| March 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

The U.S. Army Honor Guard firing party fires 3 volleys during the funeral of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Jan. 22, 2018. Golin, an 18B Special Forces Weapons Sergeant assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) died Jan. 1, 2018, as a result of wounds sustained while engaged in combat operations in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.  Golin deployed to Afghanistan in September 2017 with the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.  Golin enlisted Jan. 5, 2005 and this was his third deployment (once to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2006 to November 2007, and twice to Afghanistan from February 2009 to February 2010 and from December 2011 to October 2012, both in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.) Golin’s awards include the Purple Heart Medal with one oak leaf cluster; Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Special Forces Tab; Ranger Tab; Combat Infantryman Badge; Expert Infantryman Badge; and the Parachutist Badge, according to the Army release. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released)

Devon L. Suits
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Arlington National Cemetery will reach full capacity by the early 2040s if changes aren’t implemented soon, according to the executive director of the Army National Military Cemeteries.

“The Army recognizes that the cemetery is at a critical point in its history … changes to eligibility combined with expansion will ensure Arlington continues to be an active cemetery well into the future,” Karen Durham Aguilera said during a House Armed Services Committee briefing on March 8.

In February 2017, Army officials informed Congress that the current space constraints at the cemetery would limit their ability to serve veterans in the future.

Current eligibility requirements for in-ground burial at ANC are the most stringent of all U.S. national cemeteries. Nevertheless, most veterans who have at least one day of active service other than training, and who have been honorably discharged, are eligible for above-ground inurnment at the cemetery, officials said.

“It’s a tough reality,” Durham-Aguilera said. “The current veteran population is over 20 million. The retiree population is over 2 million. The total force, both active and reserve, is over 2 million right now. Today we have around 100,000 available burial spaces. We cannot serve that population.”

During that 2017 meeting with Congress, Army officials outlined considerations for expansion beyond current boundaries, and evaluated alternatives for maximizing the space within the cemetery’s geographic footprint, Durham-Aguilera said. Katharine Kelley, ANC’s superintendent, said, “If (Arlington) were to get a southern expansion, that can push us for another 10 years.”

Still, she said it was unlikely that a possible expansion would provide a significant gain for the cemetery. In addition to the expansion, Arlington officials have considered increasing the amount of niche wall inurnment sites. However, that would only serve as a temporary solution and could change Arlington’s “iconic look and feel,” Kelley said.

Moving forward, Army officials have determined a need to redefine Arlington’s eligibility criteria for interment and inurnment. The last significant change to Arlington’s eligibility criteria was in the late 1960s, Durham-Aguilera said.

Another, more recent change, occurred in 2016 when active duty designees were added to the above-ground eligible population at ANC. These groups consist of about 200,000 active duty designees, or nearly double the current capacity at the cemetery.

To help make a better-informed decision about the cemetery’s future, officials conducted an initial public survey about burial options in November 2017.

Out of the 28,000 people polled, 94 percent agreed that the cemetery should remain active well into the future. Additionally, over 50 percent of those who were in favor of expansion also recognized the need to modify eligibility policy. Further, if no expansion is possible, a full 70 percent were in support of restricting eligibility in some manner to extend the life of the cemetery.

Based off the survey results, officials are now considering restricting Arlington’s eligibility requirement to service members killed in action, to Medal of Honor and high award recipients, to former prisoners of war and to military members that were killed while on active duty during operations or training, Kelley said.

Arlington officials are slated to conduct another survey in the coming weeks. At the conclusion of the study, results and recommendations will be compiled by cemetery officials and released to the secretary of the Army. From there, information from the study will be shared with the other armed forces secretaries and the Secretary of Defense, and eventually released to Congress, Durham-Aguilera said.

Finding ways to keep Arlington National Cemetery open well into the future, while at the same time honoring all who served, will be a challenge, Durham-Aguilera said. “These hard choices are on our minds every single day, as we go out and lay our veterans and patriots to rest.”

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