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for his ser­vice in the 1968 Tet Of­fen­sive, said there were charges of “medal in­fla­tion” dur­ing that long war. But, in re­al­ity, com­man­ders faced such large ca­su­alty rates and re­viewed so many acts of hero­ism that it was dif­fi­cult to make the charge stick.

“I can tell you in my bat­tal­ion in Viet­nam dur­ing a six-week pe­riod we had 11 Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Crosses awarded,” Mr. Krohn said oftheArmy’ssec­ond-highestaward. “Ithinkev­ery­onewas­de­served­be­cause of the hor­ren­dous ca­su­al­ties we took.”

In most ev­ery con­flict, medal in­fla­tion is sus­pected in the award­ing of the Bronze Star. It is a recog­ni­tion of some­one op­er­at­ing un­der tough con­di­tions, which surely fits just about all mil­i­tary per­son­nel sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If I was a com­man­der, I would be very lib­eral in award­ing Bronze Stars to sol­diers who op­er­ated well in a very dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment,” Mr. Krohn said. “At the lower lev­els, it rec­og­nizes a sol­dier’s con­tri­bu­tion to the war ef­fort, and fam­i­lies are proud when their sons and daugh­ters are rec­og­nized with medals, higher or lower.”

Like Mr. Carr, the four branches main­tain there is no medal in­fla­tion in the war on ter­ror­ism.

“The Marine Corps re­lies on ex­pe­ri­ence­d­op­er­a­tional­com­man­ders [. . . ] to care­fully weigh the Marines’ ac­tions against es­tab­lished cri­te­ria,” said Lt. Col. Jim Tay­lor, the Corps’ as­sis­tant branch head for awards. “This time-tested re­view process main­tains the con­sis­tency and in­tegrity of all awards.”

The Corps is the only ser­vice so far to change the stan­dards for an award based on fight­ing a new kind of en­emy — one who uses atyp­i­cal meth­od­stoat­tack­Amer­i­cantroops. In this case, the method is the im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice (IED), a road­side or car-borne bomb that has killed and in­jured thou­sands of U.S. fight­ers.

The sec­re­tary of the Navy change­drequire­ments­fortheCom­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon, cre­ated in 1969, to in­clude ex­po­sure to an IED ex­plo­sion. A mes­sage to Marines said thechangestemmed­fromthe“evo­lu­tion of war­fare and the re­al­i­ties of the mod­ern bat­tle­field.”

The change was made retroac­tive to Oct. 7, 2001, when a U.S. led­coali­tion in­vaded Afghanistan.

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one up the chain of com­mand — from a pla­toon leader to a ser­vice sec­re­tary to the de­fense sec­re­tary — has a say in awards, de­pend­ing on the medal. Fi­nal ap­proval for the Bronze Star for sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan stops at the com­man­der of naval forces, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. A Navy Cross, the sec­ond-high­est award af­ter the Medal of Honor, is ap­proved by the Navy sec­re­tary.

The other branches fol­low sim­i­lar medal routes. The top Air Force gen­eral at Cen­tral Com­mand may ap­prove Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Crosses, Bronze Stars and other lower medals. Higher awards, such as the Air Force Cross and Sil­ver Star, must be re­viewed by the Air Force Dec­o­ra­tions Board be­fore fi­nal ap­proval by the Air Force sec­re­tary.

“In or­der to com­bat in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures that might oc­cur, the Air Force has well-es­tab­lished pro­ce­dures in place to guard against that ten­dency,” said Capt. David Small, an Air Force spokesman at the Pen­tagon.

The Army, too, said it has safe­guards built into the awards sys­tem. The process be­gins with com­man­ders in the war zone, who must re­view re­ports of po­ten­tially heroic feats and po­ten­tial eye­wit­nesses, then de­cide which medal to rec­om­mend.

“The com­man­der on the ground is the one who must make the call on what level award is given to a sol­dier,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman on per­son­nel is­sues. “Thecom­man­der­saretheones­best fit to rec­og­nize their ef­forts and val­i­date their ac­tions jus­ti­fy­ing each award.” De­fla­tion

At a farewell press brief­ing Dec. 8 be­fore he gave up his com­mand, Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli left re­porters with a tale of hero­ism. Gen. Chiarelli told the story of an un­named sol­dier, a gun­ner on a Humvee, who saw a grenade tossed inside the truck. He yelled grenade and be­gan to jump out of the ve­hi­cle, as per his train­ing. But his com­bat bud­dies didn’t hear, or mis­un­der­stood.

“In a sin­gu­lar act of hero­ism, this sol­dier, who was half­way out of the truck, dropped back into the truck and placed his body against that grenade, thereby sav­ing the lives of the four other in­di­vid­u­als that were inside that truck,” said Gen. Chiarelli, un­til re­cently the No. 2 U.S. of­fi­cer in Iraq.

Other com­man­ders and the press have doc­u­mented hun­dreds of heroic ac­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan dur­ing the past five years. Yet, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, to date, has awarded just two Medals of Honor, the na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary award.

To some vet­er­ans, it is a sig­nal that the Pen­tagon is too timid in ap­prov­ing the award. They point out that the 1993 con­flict in So­ma­lia, where U.S. troops fought only one ma­jor ur­ban bat­tle, pro­duced two Medal­sofHonor,the­samenum­ber as five years of fight­ing in Afghanistan and nearly four in Iraq.

“Some com­man­ders think the Army in the past was too gen­er­ous in awards and, there­fore, es­tab­lished very se­vere stan­dards, which is their pre­rog­a­tive be­cause it’s a com­man­der’s de­ci­sion whether or not a sol­dier gets rec­om­mended, and I think that makes sense,” Mr. Krohn said. “We would never want a uni­ver­sal stan­dard that was too spe­cific.”

Rep.JohnM.McHugh,NewYork Repub­li­canand­former­chair­manof the House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee on mil­i­tary per­son­nel, said he is trou­bled by the fact that since the end of the Viet­nam War, pres­i­dents have awarded only four Medals of Honor — all posthu­mously. Nearly half the re­cip­i­ents in World War II sur­vived the ac­tion.

“I am con­cerned that the mil­i­tary ser­vices re­cently may have in­tro­duced more strin­gent cri­te­ria onto the Medal of Honor awards process than has ex­isted in the past,” Mr. McHugh said at a hear­ing in De­cem­ber.

MichaelL.Dominguez,prin­ci­pal deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for per­son­nel and readi­ness, called the eval­u­a­tion process “ex­act­ing, as no award of a Medal of Honor should ever be open to crit­i­cism.”

“We must get it right the first time,” he said. It is the only award that re­quires ap­proval by the sec­re­tary of de­fense and the pres­i­dent. He­roes

It is dif­fi­cult to com­pare wars. Each in­volved dif­fer­ent num­bers oftroops,length­sof­t­ime­an­den­emy tac­tics. For the 12-year Viet­nam War, the Pen­tagon ap­proved 245 Medals of Honor, an av­er­age of 20 a year. But Viet­nam re­quired far more troops and con­stant, in­tense fight­ing, dur­ing which more than 58,000 Amer­i­cans died. In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops are typ­i­cally fight­ing in smaller units against am­bushes, sui­cide bombers and planted bombs.

“Those who com­pare valor awards from con­flict to con­flict must un­der­stand that the chang­ing na­ture of war­fare from large forceon-force bat­tles to asym­met­ric war­fare against small bands of in­sur­gents [. . . ] does not nec­es­sar­ily sup­port a di­rect com­par­i­son,” Mr. Dominguez said.

Atitspeak,theViet­namWar­com­manded more than 500,000 troops. TheAfghanistan-Iraqwarsav­er­age about 160,000 on any given day.

On April 4, 2003, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith was part of a 3rd In­fantry Di­vi­sion unit that was build­ing a hold­ing cell for pris­on­ers of war near Bagh­dad In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Sud­denly, his three dozen men came un­der at­tack by a com­pany-size Iraqi force that hurled in mor­tar fire and grenades.

“Sergeant First Class Smith braved hos­tile en­emy fire to per­son­al­lyen­gageth­een­e­my­with­hand grenade­san­danti-tankweapon­sand or­ga­nized the evac­u­a­tion of three wounded sol­diers from an ar­mored per­son­nel­car­ri­er­hit­byen­e­my­fire,” his ci­ta­tion read. “In to­tal dis­re­gard forhisown­life,hemain­tained­hi­s­ex­posed­po­si­tion­i­norder­to­en­gagethe at­tack­ing en­emy force. [. . . ] Dur­ing this ac­tion, he was mor­tally wounded.”

Pres­i­dent Bush posthu­mously awarded Sgt. Smith the Medal of Honor in April 2005.

“Sergeant Smith manned a 50cal­iber­ma­chine­gu­natopadam­aged ar­mored ve­hi­cle,” Mr. Bush said. “From a com­pletely ex­posed po­si­tion, he killed as many as 50 en­emy sol­diers as he pro­tected his men.”

On Jan. 11, the morn­ing af­ter telling the na­tion his new strat­egy for Iraq, Mr. Bush awarded the war on ter­ror­ism’s sec­ond Medal of Honor. Again, the award was post­hu­mous.

Marine Corps Cpl. Ja­son Dunham,24,and­his­ri­f­lesquad­w­ereon pa­trol in a town near the Syr­ian border in April 2004 when he was at­tacked by an Iraqi in­sur­gent. In hand-to-hand fight­ing, the Iraqi in­sur­gent dropped a grenade. Cpl. Dunham fell on top of it, us­ing his Kevlar hel­met to block the blast. Cpl. Dunham, a na­tive of up­state New York, died of his wounds eight days later at the Na­tional Naval Med­i­cal Hospi­tal in Bethesda, Md.

“By his self­less­ness, Cor­po­ral Dun­ham­savedthe­livesoft­woofhis men, and showed the world what it means to be a Marine,” Mr. Bush said at a White House cer­e­mony.

As for the un­named hero men­tioned in Gen. Chiarelli’s press con­fer­ence, the mil­i­tary later iden­ti­fied him as Army Pvt. 1st Class Ross A. McGin­nis,19,ana­ma­teurme­chanic from Knox, Pa. He was quickly awarded the Sil­ver Star.

“He had time to jump out of the truck,” the mil­i­tary quoted Sgt. 1st ClassCedricThomasas­say­ing.“He chose not to.”

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