A soldier from the Louisiana National Guard who died alongside Marines in a training accident deserves to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his father said Saturday.
Former Green Beret Stephen Florich told Fox & Friends it is a “travesty” his son has been denied that honor because he was not on active duty at the time of his death.
Most active duty or retired military members of military service are eligible for in-ground interment at Arlington. Members of the reserves or National Guard are not eligible unless they have been on active duty.
“I think my son was very active on that aircraft,” Florich said. “My son was in uniform. My son was serving in the capacity as a crew chief and a door gunner. And in adverse weather conditions, he accepted a mission to train people for combat in the future. And in that, he gave all and lost his life.”
The Army said in a statement Saturday to save space in the already crowded Arlington National Cemetery, the Army has "strict eligibility criteria for both internment and inurnment."
The March 11 crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida killed Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26, of Baton Rouge, La., three other guardsmen and seven Marines. The Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter went down in heavy fog.
"Staff Sgt. Florich's death was tragic, and a deep loss to his family, the Army and our nation," the statement said. "His record of service makes him eligible for inurnment, so he may be forever enshrined in Arlington National Cemetery; however, since at the time of his death he was on active duty for training only, he therefore does not meet the well-established criteria for interment in Arlington National Cemetery."
The Louisiana National Guard has expressed disappointment over the Army’s refusal to waive its Arlington burial policy in Florich’s case. It has appealed the decision on behalf of the Florich family.
The Army said Sgt. Florich is eligible to receive military honors and inurnment, but Florich said that is not what the family wants.
“Because he was in the national guard does not mean that my family should have to cremate and put his ashes in an urn to put him in a smaller space,” Florich said. He said when his son's daughter goes to school and is asked about her father she should be able to say "in Arlington."
The retired major said his son was a good soldier who believed in what he was doing.
He said when his son was asked why he was going into the service, he said “If not me then who?"
Florich had been a member of the Guard for eight years and had not deployed overseas.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh could have made an exception and waive the current eligibility rules, according to a senior U.S. official.
However, the Army National Military Cemeteries Executive Director and the Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Group "unanimously agreed that the circumstances, while tragic, did not warrant displacing an otherwise eligible service member or veteran," it said in the statement.
One of the Marines involved in the crash, Sgt. Andrew Seif, who had recently been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor, was buried at Arlington in April.
The seven U.S. Marines aboard the helicopter were all active duty service members and part of Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC).
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.