Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Military Awards; Two Complaints

I am struck by the fact that, at least locally, I have not seen hardly any military awards ceremonies covered in either the papers or on national/local TV. I see two potential issues here…I feel obliged to comment on both.

First, I am fearful that the military has not moved far from its practices of the 80’s and 90’s in the way awards were meted out.

There were a few hanging chads from the Vietnam War that impacted our awards policies for the two decades hence. First, there are many Vietnam vets that are unable to recount the specifics for which they received their combat awards. In essence, they were uncertain of the value of their awards, because they were given awards as a matter of policy, vice being given awards for specific actions that were captured by a third party and independently submitted through the chain. This is not meant to besmirch the awards of Vietnam Vets, but to relate the feelings of vets that I have heard many times... that without the connective tissue of a specific act that even the recipient views as modestly heroic, the award, while higly valued in the culture, may not be highly valued by the recipient. In other words, a bad awards program diminishes the value of the awards. This had the effect of downplaying the value of awards in the years following Vietnam, de-emphasizing them almost into extinction. I recall very few awards ceremonies from 1978-1984.

The second post-Vietnam effect is one of direct comparison. By all accounts, the combat tours of duty in Vietnam were extremely dangerous and challengingly arduous. The follow-on combat operations, such a Grenada and Panama, were of such short duration, that the thought of giving out combat awards for operations that lasted less than a week, seemed a bit too much for most commanders, all of whom were Vietnam era vets. Hence, in the Marine Corps anyway, combat awards for those actions are viewed as rare, and highly won.

In combination, these factors created a bit of a backlash. A kind of diametric attitude that viewed awards as both minimally worthwhile, but conversely required some Vietnam comparison litmus test to merit awarding. By my observation this lasted until about 1985, as all types of awards were begrudgingly given out, at an impressively stingy rate. Increasingly, more and more non-combat, peacetime medals were given out, until a credible equilibrium seemed to be achieved…balancing the need for a viable awards program while ensuring that awards retained their value.

Quietly, however there evolved a tiering within the awards system that appeared to schedule out awards according to rank. In a lot of cases this makes sense. Legions of Merit are not designed to be given Lance Corporals just out of “A” School, but I observed many cases where Navy Commendation Medals were downgraded to Navy Achievement Medals simply because the intended recipients were Sergeants instead of Staff NCO’s. There were stratifications within the officer ranks as well. The rank-based approach to medal awarding slowly began to become accepted practice that saw very few exceptions.

Where all this concerns me today, is in the issuance of combat awards during the extent of OIF and OIF II. I don’t worry about issuing too many combat awards, I worry that the appropriate combat awards are not being awarded to the troops who are the preponderance of the forces engaged with the enemy. Since I am not seeing any in the paper, nor on the news, I worry we may be continuing to be too stingy with awards and/or passing them through some artificial litmus tests before they are awarded, having the overall effect of awarding fewer deserved awards.

I hope this is not the case…which brings me to the second point about the MSM…start treating our combat troops with the respect they deserve.

The MSM focus on prison scandals, keeping a running body count on our front pages, deriding the fighting of the insurgency, has the effect of diminishing the exhausting efforts of our troops in the field. Additionally, the MSM is all too eager to show our veterans who are now in re-hab as amputees, and to publish the funeral processions of our veterans killed in action. Don’t be fooled, these stories are being published as attacks on the President, SOD and their policies, not in an effort to honor our troops. If there were such an effort to honor our individual soldiers they would also be carrying stories on the heroic actions of our soldiers and the awards ceremonies that are certainly taking place. How many of those have been aired/published…none that I have seen locally.

So, my call,…to the military…make sure you’re giving out combat awards as they are earned. Skip the rank tests. Skip the quotas. Lighten up on the Bronze Stars and Silver Stars to staff officers. And, get the awards ceremonies honoring our troops into the papers, onto the web, and onto the nightly news.

To veterans…don’t let the MSM use you and your families as you go through your difficult re-habs. They are not doing it to honor you, they are doing it to sell newspapers and air time. Don’t let them drag you and your honor down to their level…insist on a trade…your story for additional, positive coverage of our troops and their heroic efforts in the field.

To the MSM…wise up…good news does sell. Compelling stories of troops in combat sells print. Get the clue. Quit using our vets and their horrific injuries to sell your tripe. Balance your coverage or get out of the business.

To those who suspect I am writing this over bitterness about my own personal decorations, or lack thereof…fear not, I am very colorful in my dress uniforms, including a nice smattering of individual meritorious awards, individual combat awards, and a few left over ribbons for above the right pocket on my dress blues…DD214 available upon request.

Let’s do the young troops justice…give them the medals they earn, give them the coverage the deserve…simple message.


Barb said...

MajorMike - I read about you on the Mudville Gazette, and had to come by.
I appreciate your viewpoints and insight on the topic. It strikes me as a shame that what awards have been made are not making news to run against the gloom and doom that gets spoon fed to us constantly. But I had not questioned the process under which they were awarded.
Of course, if it was not for the efforts of folks like Grayhawk and Blackfive, I'd be in the dark about many things!
Thank you for your service - and for joining the bloggers who help to remind us every day to keep the troops always in our minds!
PS - it's nice to see another Pacific NW inhabitant on the blogrolls!!

Anonymous said...

Major Mike - Learned of you through the Mudville Gazette. The subject of military awards has been on my mind of late as I read "Looking for a Hero" by Maslowski and Winslow (2005). The authors mix the story of Joe Ronnie Hooper (MOH-Vietnam-21Feb68) with their take on Vietnam: the why's, the wherefore's and what for's. Consciously or not, it's approach to tale-telling is a take-off on Neil Sheehan's "Bright and Shining Lie" (from 1988 - John Paul Vann and Vietnam). The latter is the better of the two, but I did appreciate the look at Hooper, who was very much the Audie Murphy of his war.

My point is that the Hooper book does a relatively good job of describing how medals for valor (even when justly deserved and awarded)have some genuine eye-witness accounts that contradict or at least confuse. Our young warriors in Irag and Afghanistan deserve more praise and appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice.

How long do you believe it will take before SFC Paul Smith and Marine SGT Rafael Peralta are awarded their (posthumous) MOH's?

Hang tough. Whispers have it now that McCain-Feingold is going to be foisted on the blogosphere..., and who knows how far that will go?

a LT, USN (Ret.)

Papa Ray said...

Hey Major,

During 68 and 69, I was in two units in Nam. The only awards I remember (which pissed most of us off at the time) went to officers.

Not to say they didn't deserve them (most of the time, except for the rear area pogs)but where were the ones for the Grunts?

I got my (forgot to duck) and an extended stay at W. Reed. I got bad dreams and high blood pressure from hurt, anger and disapointment in my country. Did I deserve more than "an I was there", maybe, but thats not for me to say.

It seems not many people had much to say about that period of service, which as you said was a life taking, life breaking experience for many.

Oh well, I hope they get their act together from now on.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Paul said...


When I got out of the Navy in 1965, I didn't even have a GC medal (kiddie cruisers can't qualify with 4 or more years). When I got out of the Army in 1987, I had 3 rows (still no GC medal, didn't put in 3 that time).

Times and the different branches of service change many of the criteria for awards. However, the Army does recognize the boost in morale a single "hero" badge gives the serviceman. I suppose that's part of the reason for the Army Service Ribbon and the ribbons for NCO schools.

Of course, we all knew anything at or below the GC medal was just "eye candy"!

Kevin said...

Your fear of the MSM continues to be a function of outright lunacy. The MSM is not going to report on this because the Government already does that! Why double up on Government propoganda. If Bush wants awards presentations to be covered he can get them covered anytime he wants.

I want the media to spend their time and scarce resources investigating things the Government would rather you do not know. Those are the things the Government hides from you.

Example, what is the Government doing for all the injured reservists coming home? They make them drive hundreds of miles for therapy that is what! This is a disgrace and it amazes me that, as soldiers, you think the reporting of this injustice is somehow bad. These reports should be continually investigated.

Remember the soldier who came home after losing an arm. He could not finish his enlistment (after all, he lost an arm). The Army tried to recoup his enlistment bonus because he did not finish the "terms of his contract". IT WAS THE MSM WHICH INVESTIGATED THIS, REPORTED ON IT, AND GOT THE ARMY TO GIVE THE MONEY BACK.

Thank God for investigative journalism.

You want the MSM to behave live Pravda. Why did you join to defend this Country? It appears you want our Country to be run like our Enemy's.

Mike said...

Major Mike, read about you over at Mudville. You have quite the blog; you've been added to my list of daily reads. Anyway, the reason I'm commenting is to discuss something Kevin said. According to Kevin, if the government really wanted to, we would be hearing about our heroes night and day from the media. Kevin must subscribe to the Putin school of journalism. You know, the one that believes Dan Rather was persecuted because the President wanted him persecuted. Outside of blogs, I've read less than 10 positive stories the entire conflict; half of those were online articles at a newspaper that I became aware of through blogs. I've read four or five, total, positive stories on the Iraqi conflict in my local newspaper. I live in Nebraska, the heart of Bush country. What does that tell you?

I agree with you, Kevin, those investigations you mentioned did everyone a service. All I'm asking for is balance. I want to hear about Abu Ghraib, I want to hear about any slight against Reservists, I want to hear about attacks by terrorists. But I also want to hear about schools being opened, about the four Iraqi policemen who sacrifices their lives so that a convoy of American troops wasn't attacked, about SFC Smith and SGT Peralta and all the countless acts of heroism during the Battle of Fallujah.

I want both sides of the story told. Right now we're only hearing one.

Fred Schoeneman said...


Good points. Do you know where I can find statistics about the number of medals issued by rank?


Major Mike said...


Nicely done.


When the Oregonian leads with "U.S. bullets greet freed hostage" this morning, I don't fear the MSM, I loathe them. The MSM, because of their unabashed bias, will evaporate. The clear facts about this incident don't show up until paragraph 5, as the story is about to be sent to A6, for no one to read. I really believe that our troops were locked and loaded, waiting for thsi journalist and the Italian sewcurity forces to drive to their checkpoint, just so they could shoot them as a impled by the O's fun headline. Get a clue Kevin, this is out of balanced and designed to sell newspapers, NOT to present an even picture of what is going on.

By the way, the positive story about local NG types finding a cache of weapons was a full 50% smaller in font size, with a yawner as a header. Fair? right.

Major Mike said...

Please forgive the typos in the previous fingers couldn't adequately keep up with the smoke that was coming out of my ears.

Anonymous said...

Learned something about awards from my cousin. my opinions were similar to yours. Had Army service (11B10) got out with Arcom and PH (awards appropriate to my rank -Spec 4). Went into the USMC late seventies and they were very stern about awards. Came Grenada and the army issued about 8000 awards and decorations -the usmc issued 14 as I recall. Complained about this to my cousin(Korea and 1st CAV VN LTC)
He said, I think the Army's right -give those boys something to put on their chest. Thought about it, decided he was right. Learned how to do the paperwork -weenies at Div would squawk- but good troops got NAMs, good NCOs got NCMs and got MUC's twice for my units. Really helped morale.
Almost all the military awards are in the eye of the beholder. The admin pukes get a disproportionate amount because they know the paper drill. Unless you have a CO who's a bachelor, willing to put the extra time in, the guys who deserve this stuff don't often see it.
I only hold the MOH, DSC/NC and SS sacred and I know of cases from VN where these shouldn't have been awarded. So what. Mostly they were hard earned and generally the award citations awe me when I read them.
The award system explains itself to insiders. In the USMC, officers wearing any non-combat award higher than a NCM have received career fodder. MSM, LM, DSM & their joint cousins are all crap that allow field grade and flag rank officers to evaluate each other.
They are being stingy on awards for valor for enlisted and jr officers. And squabbling about a wrongly awarded PH? These kids are everything we were supposed to be 35 years ago. Their everyday performance would have resulted in a shower of decorations back then. The standards for the stuff that matters are as tough as they have ever been -regretfully.

Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

Its still happening - when we rotated out of Afghanistan, there was an implicit, but strictly enforced, policy that tied merit awards to rank and / or MOS.

Officers and NCOs, E-7 or above, even if they spent the entire tour in Bagram (the "rear" in Afghanistan) were "eligible" for the BSM. Soldiers below E-7 could get the BSM if they held an 18 series (SF) MOS. Otherwise, it was the ARCOM. E-3 and below got the AAM.

The inequity of that approach became obvious when we couldn't get better than an ARCOM for our E-4 mechanic who pretty much kept our A-Camp running, working 16 hour days in brutal conditions for months on end.

He deserved a decent tour award more than any of us, but his rank and billet made it impossible to get him what he should have had.

Old Patriot said...

Major, Mike,
We're lucky here in Colorado Springs. We have a Freedom Newspaper, and it's fairly central-right. We're also home to SpaceCom, NORAD, NorthCom, the 3rd ACR, the 10th Special Forces Group, and the Air Force Academy. The local newspaper does a better than average job of covering awards ceremonies, change of command ceremonies, and special programs. Our local paper is the Colorado Springs Gazette, and its online edition carries almost everything the print version does.

One of the recent articles in the Gazette was a 400-person re-enlistment ceremony at Fort Carson. I'll admit, I never saw equal coverage in Omaha, or anywhere else outside the Stars and Stripes!

Old Patriot said...

Major, Mike,
We're lucky here in Colorado Springs. We have a Freedom Newspaper, and it's fairly central-right. We're also home to SpaceCom, NORAD, NorthCom, the 3rd ACR, the 10th Special Forces Group, and the Air Force Academy. The local newspaper does a better than average job of covering awards ceremonies, change of command ceremonies, and special programs. Our local paper is the Colorado Springs Gazette, and its online edition carries almost everything the print version does.

One of the recent articles in the Gazette was a 400-person re-enlistment ceremony at Fort Carson. I'll admit, I never saw equal coverage in Omaha, or anywhere else outside the Stars and Stripes!

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