A photograph of an airman tongue-kissing a painting of the Prisoner of War-Missing In Action symbol went viral this week, sparking a backlash from offended veterans.
The photo, taken almost three years ago, was recently posted on several Facebook pages. In it, Staff Sgt. Cherish Byers of the 92nd Security Forces Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Wash., licks the face of the POW silhouette.
Marine Corps veteran Michael Kelley told the Air Force Times he felt "blind fury and disgust" when he saw the picture.
"There's absolutely no reason to have done anything like that," Kelley said. "It goes completely against everything that we're taught in the military from Day 1. She failed herself; she's failed the Air Force and the military community as a whole by doing something that disrespectful and then having it get out to the world like that."
Byers is now the subject of a command-direct investigation into whether the image constitutes disciplinary measures.
"It's a concern any time someone shows disrespect for prisoners of war and those missing in action," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said in a statement to Air Force Times. "They deserve our utmost respect, and we must always remember their sacrifice and the legacy they've left for us as men and women serving our nation.”
Kelley said the image represents a “cultural problem” in the Air Force.
"It seems like one thing after another with this complete lack of respect for the basic principles of being in a military service," said Kelley
Cody said the image does not speak for the other airmen.
"I want to make it clear that this is not a reflection of airmen who wear this uniform; it is a case of poor judgment of one airman ... to say we are disappointed would be an understatement,” Cody said. “We are gathering all the details and will take appropriate action at the appropriate level. Our airmen fully understand the significance of the POW/MIA flag and the sacrifice of the men and women it honors.”