- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The family of a Louisiana National Guardsman killed in a helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico has received approval for him to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Friday that he had approved an exception to policy that will allow Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26, to be buried at Arlington.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see the right thing being done,” said Florich’s father, Stephen Florich, in a telephone interview from his home in King George, Virginia. “Another good thing to see was the bipartisan support from Louisiana that came forward for my son. That’s exactly why we serve and why we fight for this nation.”

Florich was among four guardsmen and seven Marines killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed March 10 off Florida’s coast. Because Florich was on a training mission when he died, a request for burial at Arlington was originally denied. The burial plots are only for service members who die on active duty and space is limited, the cemetery has said.

Louisiana’s congressional delegation circulated a letter in support of the Florichs’ request and urged McHugh to reverse the Army’s decision.

After reviewing the request, McHugh agreed there was a “compelling justification” for granting it.

McHugh specifically noted that while Florich was training in his capacity as a member of the National Guard, others who were killed were considered to be on active duty and were therefore eligible for burial at Arlington without an exception to policy. That anomaly led McHugh to reverse the Army’s earlier decision.

“As the U.S. military evolves, reserve and National Guard service members train alongside their active duty counterparts with increasing frequency,” McHugh wrote in a subsequent memorandum. “When these service members tragically lose their lives while training side-by-side for the same mission in defense of our nation, it is fitting to afford them the same burial privileges.”

McHugh has also ordered a review of the Code of Federal Regulations, which governs eligibility for interment and inurnment at Arlington, to see if changes may be needed to the policies.

Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana Army National Guard, thanked McHugh for his actions. “This soldier’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery is a fitting testament to his sacrifice and honorable service to our state and country,” Curtis said in a statement.

“We are eternally grateful for what they’ve done to help my son rest in peace,” Stephen Florich said.

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