Nobody would be surprised to learn the bureaucratic federal government moves slowly but veteran’s groups have been demanding and pleading for action for 10 years now, says Derek Jones, a retired Air Force pilot who sits on a civilian advisory committee for the famous military cemetery.
"They've been stonewalling us [from] being able to update the memorial,” he tells AFN, “In simple parlance, they continued to move the goal post and over the years, we just got tired of it.”
Jones, who currently serves as executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, is also involved in the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. That group, which endorses military chaplains for the armed forces, also honors their service and keeps a close eye on Arlington’s special area named Chaplain’s Hill. That small section of four markers recognizes Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains going back to World War I.
But there are 81 names that need to be added and are still waiting and waiting.
After Jones and others witnessed the Army Secretary ignore their pleas and refuse to update the markers, he was grateful Congress finally got involved by mandating the update in the Pentagon’s annual budget twice, in 2021 and 2022. Yet no action has been taken partly because the section includes the word “may,” according to Jones, which D.C. officials are citing to claim there is no direct order to proceed.
The word “may” was written in the law rather than “shall” because funding to update the memorials comes from private groups, he says. That common fact about budget language is known to those who are playing dumb and now claiming otherwise, he says.
Jones also pins the blame on one Washington official, Renea Yates, who is currently director of the Office of Army Secretaries, according to the U.S. Army website.
At an August 11 meeting of the Arlington National Cemetery Review Committee, she publicly opposed adding the 81 names. The committee deadlocked 3-3 after her opposition.
Jones says Yates has been accused of anti-religious beliefs about religious expression in Arlington Cemetery and at Chaplain’s Hill, too He he says she is the main reason veterans' groups went to Congress for help.
“It is a shame that essentially one person, in a position of influence over a sub-committee,” he says of Yates, “actually believes they can defy Congress.”