Medal Watch: Ser­vices weigh stan­dards for mil­i­tary hon­ors

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

TheJoin­tChief­sofStaffgath­ered for a meet­ing in the su­per­secret “tank”atthePen­tagon,but­thetopic was not how to fight the war on ter­ror­ism. It was how to com­mend those who do the fight­ing.

The de­bate in 2005, ac­cord­ing to se­nior de­fense sources, pit­ted the Army, Navy and Marine Corps against the Air Force. The Air Force planned­toawardt­woex­pe­di­tionary awards — the Afghanistan Cam­paign Medal and the Iraq Cam­paign Medal — to any air­men who par­tic­i­pated, even if they were based in the United States. The other three branches protested.

“The Air Force says that the box they’re fight­ing in is the globe,” a se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial said, ex­plain­ing that the “box” is a theater of war, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

“The other ser­vices say an ex­pe­di­tion is to a piece of ground. It’s a box, and it’s not the globe,” said the of­fi­cial, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied.

In the end, the Joint Chiefs chair­man and top Pen­tagon civil­ians ruled against the Air Force. The two medals would be con­fined to those who ac­tu­ally served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The de­bate il­lus­trated how se­ri­ously the mil­i­tary takes the ques­tionofmedals—whoget­s­the­mand for what. The tank ses­sion also car­ried broader im­pli­ca­tions at the Pen­tagon. It pre­vi­ously had re­viewed the four branches’ com­men­da­tion poli­cies and rules 10 years ago.

A suf­fi­cient num­ber of ques­tions arose about other medals that David Chu, un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for per­son­nel, set up a spe­cial task force to re­view rules for award­ing 36 medals — ev­ery­thing from the Medal of Honor to the Antarc­tica Ser­vice Medal. The task force is ex­pected to re­lease its rec­om­men­da­tions later this year.

Bill Carr, deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for mil­i­tary per­son­nel pol­icy, said the goal is not to de­ter­mine whether past awards were le­git­i­mate. In­stead, the panel will re­view re­quire­ments to en­sure there is as much uni­for­mity as pos­si­ble in the De­part­ment of De­fense’s Man­ual of Mil­i­tary Dec­o­ra­tions and Awards.

Mr. Carr said one thing is al­ready clear. Ex­cept in one case, he has not seen any ev­i­dence of “medal in­fla­tion” — com­man­ders hand­ing out Bronze Stars or cam­paign medals un­der ques­tion­able cir­cum­stances.

“The ob­jec­tive is to re­duce the dif­fer­ences, such that the pres­ence of a medal on a chest means the same­thing,oras­closeaswe­canget to it,” he said. “I think the troops prob­a­bly care less about the qual­i­fy­ing cir­cum­stances as they do about the con­sis­tency.”

Mr. Carr said the panel might re­fine some stan­dards while ex­pand­ing oth­ers. Cur­rently, for ex­am­ple, mil­i­tary per­son­nel wounded by in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists are el­i­gi­ble for the Pur­ple Heart. Hun­dreds re­ceived them af­ter al Qaeda’s at­tack on the Pen­tagon on Septem­ber 11. But the mil­i­tary vic­tims of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, such as those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb­ing, are not el­i­gi­ble.

Among the 168 dead in that bomb­ing were two Marines at a re­cruit­ing of­fice in the Al­fred P. Mur­rah Fed­eral Build­ing. The panel may de­cide to in­clude those vic­tims, too.

In ad­di­tion to the in­ter­ser­vice squab­ble over ex­pe­di­tionary medals, three other events prompted the Pen­tagon re­view:

lThe Air Force had awarded the Bronze Star, a medal nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with per­form­ing in a bat­tle zone, to air­men in the United States for mis­sions such as load­ing bombs onto planes.

“The Army didn’t like that, and nei­ther did the Congress,” Mr. Carr said. Congress en­acted a law in 2005 re­strict­ing the Bronze Star to per­son­nel who work in a dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment. “The Air Force had given a num­ber of them to peo­ple who had per­formed valu­able ser­vice, but it wasn’t in a dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Mr. Carr said this is the only case of “medal in­fla­tion” he has found since the war on ter­ror­ism be­gan. “I would rate that as in­fla­tion be­cause [. . . ] Congress judged that it was in­fla­tion­ary.”

lThe Army awards the “V” de­vice to add to such medals as the Bronze Star, to sig­nify valor. But the Navy and Air Force have dif­fer­ent stan­dards. For the Navy, it means the sailor was in com­bat. For the Air Force, it de­notes ac­com­plish­ments while in harm’s way. Again, the Army is push­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

lThe ser­vices fol­low dif­fer­ent stan­dards for a Pur­ple Heart. The Army, for ex­am­ple, awards it for a con­cus­sion; the Marine Corps re­quires a se­vere con­cus­sion, as de­fined by a doc­tor. The uni­form

His­to­ri­ans credit Napoleon with in­sti­tut­ing the first sys­tem of awards to sol­diers based on in­di­vid­ual merit and valor, re­gard­less of re­li­gion or so­cial back­ground. He cre­ated the Le­gion of Honor, a cross and ea­gle ensem­ble he wore proudly. It has sur­vived all the French re­publics.

When crit­ics ques­tioned the worth of hand­ing out awards, Napoleon was quoted as say­ing: “We call th­ese chil­dren’s toys, I know; it’s been said al­ready. Well, I replied that it’s with such toys that one leads men.”

The­mo­ti­va­tion­foraward­ingdec­o­ra­tions has not changed much in the 200 years since.

“It’s cen­tral to the sus­tain­ment of a sound mil­i­tary ethos,” Mr. Carr said. “In other words, the mil­i­tary tra­di­tion and pas­sion and value sys­tem. It is very sub­stan­tially op­er­ated by the mil­i­tary to per­pet­u­ate thatethosandthat­val­uesys­te­mand pass it along to gen­er­a­tions.”

ThePen­tag­o­nis­pay­ing­such­close at­ten­tion to what per­son­nel wear on their chests be­cause it goes to the heart of be­ing a war­rior. In a sense, the dec­o­ra­tions are a quick-read ser­vice record. The mul­ti­col­ored rib­bons and shiny medals tell col­leagues where the per­son has been, whether­he­saw­com­bat,his­brav­ery and his wounds. Wear­ing an unau­tho­rized or ques­tion­able rib­bon is con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous of­fense.

In 1996, Navy Adm. Jeremy “Mike” Bo­orda, while chief of naval op­er­a­tions, drove from the Pen­tagon to his Navy Yard com­pound for lunch. There, he fa­tally shot him­self. He­hadlearnedthe­p­ress­wasques­tion­ing his wear­ing of the “V” de­vice, in­di­cat­ing he had been in com­bat, on Viet­nam ser­vice rib­bons. Adm. Bo­orda, who served on ships off the coast of Viet­nam, was sched­uled to an­swer ques­tions that af­ter­noon with Newsweek re­porters.

A fac­tor in Sen. John Kerry’s elec­tion loss to Pres­i­dent Bush in 2004wasthemedal­she­won­inViet­nam. A group of fel­low swift-boat sailors wrote a book ques­tion­ing the truth­ful­ness of the medal ci­ta­tions. Mr. Kerry ig­nored the ac­cu­sa­tions for weeks be­fore fi­nally de­fend­ing his war ser­vice and dec­o­ra­tions. Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits said the de­lay cost him votes.

“It is crit­i­cal to a mil­i­tary mem­ber’s cred­i­bil­ity that he wear only themedal­sheisen­ti­tled­towearand which are doc­u­mented in his or her ser­vice record,” said Charles Git­tins, a for­mer Marine avi­a­tor whose law prac­tice spe­cial­izes in mil­i­tary law. He said know­ingly wear­ing an un­earned medal is a vi­o­la­tion of the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice. A con­vic­tion can bring a max­i­mum sen­tence of six months in jail on each vi­o­la­tion. Fight­ing in­fla­tion

Re­tired Army Lt. Col. Charles Krohn, a Viet­nam com­bat­ant who earned the Sil­ver Star for hero­ism, the ser­vice’s third-high­est award,

As­so­ci­ated Press

The fam­ily of Marine Cpl. Ja­son Dunham gath­ered in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 11 as Pres­i­dent Bush awarded Cpl. Dunham a post­hu­mous Medal of Honor for giv­ing his life to save com­rades.

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