Officials working on plan to view gravesites online at Main Post Cemetery

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMay 1, 2013 

Relatives of loved ones buried at Fort Benning’s Main Post Cemetery soon will be able to use a smartphone or computer to view headstone and grave locations.

Armed with iPhones, a group of soldiers from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, started photographing 8,000 headstones Monday to collect information at the nine-acre cemetery. Information from the photographs will be matched with cemetery facts collected since burials started in the 1920s.

“I would anticipate in the next year or two that a smartphone application will be available for the people to start using,” said Kirk Ticknor, chief of operations and maintenance in the Directorate of Public Works.

Work at Fort Benning is part of the gravesite accountability efforts that started in 2009 at Arlington National Cemetery after reports of burial record discrepancies.

“As a result of that, Arlington has modernized their system on a computer database,” Ticknor said. “They photographed all headstones and they have a very concise accountability system now. That effort has kind of carried over to other Army cemeteries, and we are getting this done.”

When the work is completed, the public will be able to view online cemeteries at Fort Benning and 16 other installations with more than 45,000 gravesites managed by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

The post was able to tackle the project with help from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. All installations are facing across the board budget cuts that went into effect March 1. From the group, six soldiers work on the computers and 10 take digital photos. The soldiers will provide about $50,000 worth of labor.

“We are getting free $50,000 worth of labor,” he said. “That is a pretty significant savings using those guys.”

Staff Sgt. James Hulsey, who is leading the soldiers, said they were scheduled to work until Friday, but he hopes to get them extended another two weeks. “I believe by the end of May or beginning of June we will be done with the entire effort,” he said.

Soldiers working on the project include cooks, cavalry scouts, intelligence and infantry soldiers. With soldiers taking photos of gravesites of other soldiers who served their country, Hulsey believes the soldiers are dedicated to accomplishing the work. “There is a personal tie and commitment there,” he said.

James P. Sanders, director of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Ala., said the technology is already available for the 7,500 gravesites there. “We’ve got it on our smartphones also,” he said. “We’ve had it probably going on two years. We are trying to make it as easy as possible.”

The Main Post Cemetery stopped accepting new burials last year, but it still has two or three burials a week for spouses. The cemetery also still has room at its columbarium for cremations.

Information on the gravesites will be useful for years. “I think this will be very helpful and significant to the people who have family and loved ones buried here,” Ticknor said. “The ability to pull this up on a smartphone or computer at home is going to be a big help. With these photographs in the database, you will also be able to see their headstone on the computer. It gives you a peace of mind. You can say, ‘Hey, my loved one is being taken care of.’”

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