The family of a Marine killed in Afghanistan was not asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to cover the costs of shipping her body to Virginia for military burial, contrary to reports circulated by Republican congressmen this week.
Individuals connected to the controversy said the issue stems from a charity group’s efforts to provide extra assistance to the family of Sgt. Nicole Gee, who was killed in the Aug. 26, 2021, terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. Her body was transported by military officials back to California for memorial services.
But shortly thereafter, Gee’s remains were moved again to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for final burial. Costs of a private flight for her casket and remains were covered by Honoring Our Fallen, a nonprofit group which provides support to military families.
Following a meeting last week with Gee’s family and relatives of other fallen service members, Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla. and an Army veteran, told Fox News he was outraged that Gee’s family faced a heavy financial burden after her death to handle transportation costs. In a letter to Pentagon leaders days later, Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif., blasted military leaders for leaving the family with $60,000 in unpaid bills related to the burial.
But Pentagon officials told the Sacramento Bee they had no record of any such cost for the family, and officials from Honoring Our Fallen said the family was not refused transportation of Gee’s body from California to Virginia.
Laura Herzog, founder and CEO of the group, said in a statement that “no monies were exchanged or expected to be paid by our organization or the family.”
Instead, the group offered Gee’s family private transportation instead of commercial options that would have been available through the Defense Department.
Christy Shamblin, Gee’s mother-in-law, in an interview with Task & Purpose on Wednesday said that family members were not denied any aid or asked to pay for any transportation costs.
“I think that we got the information that that’s how much it was going to cost, and the private nonprofit just stepped in and took over from there,” she told Task & Purpose.
Mills’ office did not return requests for comment on the confusion over the transportation issues.
Gee’s death and the deaths of 12 other American service members have become a contentious political issue in recent years, with Republican lawmakers accusing President Joe Biden’s administration of creating unsafe conditions outside the airport during their push to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Gee, 23, was serving with a Female Engagement Team to help evacuation of women and children from Afghanistan at the time of her death.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.