Holmes Norton is one of six delegates pushing to have the flags of the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia flown at all military ceremonies.
Capitol Hill’s six non-voting House delegates for the five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia want their flags flown during military ceremonies in all branches of the armed forces, along with the flags of the 50 states.
But despite support for their cause in the House for two years running, it’s not likely to gain traction in the Senate before the end of the legislative session.
Current practice demands that military bases display all the state flags during official events such as homecomings and award ceremonies. It’s intended as a symbolic gesture of appreciation for the sacrifices of servicemembers.
For members of the military who hail from the District, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico, however, it becomes a gesture of exclusion. Except for those in the Army branch of the military, no military base is required to fly the D.C. and territory flags, or even have them in supply.
“All we want is the recognition,” said Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-N. Marianas. “And we want our soldiers and our marines, our coastguardsman, our sailors, to come home, or go on their way to deployment, and see their flag.”
A remedy for this discrepancy has been sought, and endorsed, with little controversy in the House’s versions of the fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 defense authorization bills. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., offered an amendment containing the language last year, and Sablan was this year’s amendment sponsor.
This language was not included in the Senate’s fiscal 2012 measure, however, and when the two bills were merged in conference the provision was left out.
Now, as the Senate takes up its defense authorization this week, sources familiar with the issue say the provision is not likely to be included this time around either by amendment or during conference.
It’s not entirely clear why the language, seemingly so simple, would not be well received by Senate conferees. Spokesmen for the top Republican and Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee — Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Adam Smith, D-Wash. — declined to comment and referred inquiries to their Senate counterparts. But press secretaries for Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., did not weigh in either.
Sablan and Del. Donna M.C. Christensen, D-V.I., have been told that senators were concerned about the cost burden for military bases to purchase and fly the additional flags.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.