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Law named for fallen Marine allows troops to wear uniforms at graduation

Nearly three years after a New Hampshire high school refused a Marine's request to wear his uniform instead of a cap and gown to graduation, the state passed a law making sure service members are never treated that way again.

On Monday, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed "Brandon's Law," which ensures that all service members have the right to wear their uniforms at high school graduation.

The law is named after Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrant, whose high school reportedly told him in June 2013 that if he wanted to wear his Marine uniform to graduation, it would have to be under his cap and gown. At the time, Garabrant had just completed boot camp at Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

The following year, Garabrant was killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was 19 years old at the time.

"In 2014, New Hampshire was devastated by the tragic loss of Brandon Garabrant, who was bravely serving his nation in Afghanistan," Hassan said in a statement Monday. "A volunteer firefighter and dedicated Marine, Brandon was committed to serving his fellow citizens, and he had previously wanted to wear his dress uniform to his high school graduation. Unfortunately, he was denied that opportunity."

Garabrant's parents could not be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.

News that Garabrant's high school would not allow him to wear his uniform at graduation went viral in 2013, outraging Marine Corps Times readers.

"I feel that this treatment was un–American, totally unfair and just plain wrong," one commenter wrote in response to a June 5, 2013, Battle Rattle blog post. "I feel for Brandon and [his] family. That's outrageous, and I'm sure hoping that some kind of action being taken over this situation. He deserves more respect. Just awful."

A Marine Corp carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant, 19, of Peterborough, N.H., Monday, June 23, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Garabrant died June 20, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A Marine Corp carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant, 19, of Peterborough, N.H., Monday, June 23, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Garabrant died June 20, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Marines move a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant, 19, of Peterborough, N.H., on June 23, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP

Brian Pickering, principal of ConVal High School, said he is glad "clear-cut guidelines are now in place," which didn't exist when Garabrant graduated.

At the time, Pickering consulted with Marine Corps officials, the student council and a school board member who is an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, all of whom agreed that Garabrant should wear a cap and gown, Pickering said in a statement.

"The community was supportive, but outside people were judging," he said. "If the Marines had told me the uniform of the day should be a Marine dress uniform, I certainly would have done what the Marines said. I respect the new law and I'm thankful things will be clear, not only for me but all principals in the future."

Allowing high school students who are service members to wear their military uniforms at their graduation is a tribute to Garabrant's service, Hassan said in the statement.

"That Marine was an example for many," said New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, who was one of the law's co-sponsors. "He got all of his credits way before anyone else and chose to go to boot camp during January."

Baldasaro is a Marine veteran who spent 22 years in the service, during which he deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm. He said Garabrant should have been allowed to wear his Marine uniform at graduation "because that's his uniform of the day once you go through boot camp."

"Brandon's Law" now honors all veterans and current service members, Baldasaro said.

"It keeps the American veterans out in public … to show that these kids that are joining the military while still in school are examples in the community that we want and need more of," he said.

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