Precious Medal or Cheap Metal?
This one is about military awards, and how they've been cheapened by being whored out to servicemen who didn't earn them just so they wouldn't feel less important or less appreciated than their peers. What this does is cheapen the award make it less meaningful, which is understandably very aggravating for those who have truly earned it and see those others as unworthy of the prestige. I'll start low and work my way up.
THE COMBAT ACTION RIBBON: Many of us who've earned this one are very proud of it. A badge of honor, declaring for all to see that we have done what all servicemen signed up to do: We fought the enemy. Or did we? Thanks to the tactics employed by our current enemies, very little actual combat takes place. And thanks to some sissies whining that their lives are in danger and they're not being recognized for it, this award is now given out to people who simply hit an IED while they're on a convoy.
Now don't get me wrong, hitting an IED is no picnic, and it certainly merits recognition... just not the CAR. Create a new award specific to that situation, by all means. But walking into a booby trap does not constitute combat. "Combat" requires you to engage the enemy. If there's nobody there for you to fight against, and all you did was walk into a trap that they set up, then you have no engaged in combat.
But that's not even the worst of it. There are UAV operators (unmanned aerial vehicles... spy drones) who operate their UAV's via satellite FROM THE UNITED STATES. They're sitting safe and comfortable in the U.S., not even in the same COUNTRY, yet if they operate an armed UAV like a Predator (which has two hellfire missiles) and they engage and destroy a target, they get awarded the Combat Action Ribbon. For basically playing a video game. Yeah. So, basically, all those who really HAVE been in combat receive no more recognition than some guy with a joystick back in the states. Brilliant. Next?
THE NAVY ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL and NAVY COMMENDATION MEDAL: These two are awards for outstanding achievements and demonstrations of excellence. Those definitions are vulnerable to loose interpretations, and thus I've seen these two awarded for anything from truly spectacular achievements and performances in and out of combat, all the way down to opening a door. Yes, opening a door. I saw two Marines both get NAM's for opening a door. So much for being a prestigious award. The commendation isn't whored out as much as the NAM, but it certainly suffers the same treatment to a lesser degree. Next!
THE PURPLE HEART: John Kerry. 'Nuff said. Being wounded in combat certainly merits recognition, but the Heart is handed out for even the most trivial and mundane injuries, not necessarily received in combat but simply in a combat zone. If you get nicked by a piece of shrapnel from an IED or mortar explosion, just a little cut that doesn't even merit a bandaid, you can get a Purple Heart. That kind of indiscriminate interpretation of the prerequisites cheapen the award for those who received that very same medal in recognition of, say, getting their legs blown off by a landmine. The people who truly deserve the purple heart don't need you to see the medal to realize they've been injured... they walk with canes, or live out the rest of their lives in wheelchairs, or wear prosthetic limbs, glass eyes, have gruesome scars. REAL wounds. Anything less than a gunshot wound, or shrapnel wound causing equivalent damage, shouldn't rate a purple heart. Next!
THE BRONZE STAR: Yep. I shit you not. Up until only a few hours ago, I thought that this was one of the few truly respectable awards that were left, something that if you see it pinned on someone's chest, you KNOW they did something impressive and worthy of honor and recognition. Well, I was recently informed that certain infantry units have been awarding Bronze Stars to all of their team leaders... regardless of whether they or their teams ever so much as hit an IED. Yeah... dozens of Bronze Stars, handed out like candy for simply holding a billet. The Bronze. Fucking. Star. Obviously, this revelation is what pissed me off enough to inspire this blog.
So what's next? The Silver Star? The second highest honor that the Marine Corps can bestow, second only to the Medal of Honor? Will we start handing those out just to pat people on the back and make them feel special? There are Marines who did things that, had they died in the process (and it's a miracle they didn't... everyone remembers that 1st Sgt from Fallujah's "House of Pain" right?) would have received the Medal of Honor, but because they lived they only got the Silver Star. The Bronze Star is next behind that, just to put all this in perspective.
The only medals left that you can truly be proud of, the ones that really prove you went above and beyond, are the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, and the Combat V. This last one is only an attachment, standing for Valor, that can be attached to the Combat Action, Navy Achievement, and Navy Commendation awards... but it's still respectable because nobody gets a combat V unless they did something to earn it.
This shit needs to stop. If you want to reward servicemen and -women for the trials they've endured so they can feel appreciated and recognized, fine. But if there are no awards appropriate to their achievement, then create a new one. Don't cheapen the awards we have by handing them out to people who didn't do enough to be worthy of them, because that's like taking recognition away from some in order to give it to others. It ruins the entire purpose for the awards.
EDIT: Several commenters brought this up so I decided to clarify here: It's not our own recognition (or lack thereof) that bothers us. it's not a soldier's place to seek recognition for doing the job we all signed up to do, even when we do it spectacularly well. But there's certainly a sense of pride when we are recognized.
I can tell you that as a leader, I strive to reward my Marines when they perform exceptionally well. I submit them for the awards I feel they deserve and I fight to make sure they receive that recognition, because rewarding excellence is a leader's responsibility, and it's every bit as important as punishing negligence if not MORE important. We're very proud of our Marines when they do something that is just outstanding.
However, when we see Marines who outshine their peers, yet their excellence goes unrecognized, that shit pisses us off. Likewise, when we see the same award given to one of our own in recognition of true valor awarded at some other time to some chump who really didn't do anything to deserve it, that shit burns us up. Hope that clears things up.