The Air Force said Thursday it was investigating a photograph of a group of airmen posing with another airman pretending to be dead and lying in an open casket with a noose around his neck.
Written at the bottom of the photo are the words: "Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt ... Sucks 2 Be U."
Though apparently unrelated, the photo is particularly sensitive because word of it follows revelations about the mishandling of remains of the war dead at the Air Force mortuary in Dover, Del.
Todd Spitler, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, said the airmen in the photo are from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and were attending training at Fort Lee, Va., when the photograph was taken.
In the photo, 15 airmen wearing military fatigues surround another airman standing nearly upright in the casket. The airman in the casket has chains on his body and a noose around his neck. Most of the airmen surrounding him have their arms crossed in front of themselves in an "X" formation.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said he was saddened the photo could cause further grief to families of the fallen.
"Such behavior is not consistent with our core values, and it is not representative of the airmen I know," he said in a statement.
Lackland spokesman Gerry Proctor said the photo was taken in August and appeared on Facebook in October. He said officials first learned about the existence of the photo on Monday after the military was contacted by the Air Force Times. The Air Force Times said it had been emailed the photo on Monday.
"It's something that we take very serious," Proctor said. "The image, regardless of how one interprets it, the image does not portray our values or the values of the Air Force and that is why the investigation was launched immediately."
Proctor said it's premature to say whether any kind of disciplinary action would be taken. He said he did not know how long the investigation would take or what message the airmen were trying to convey in the photo.