Posted on Mar 30, 2015
Sgt Aaron Kennedy, MS
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http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/03/30/cult-of-combat-action-ribbon-has-it-gone-too-far/70488570/

From the Marine Corps Times. Appeared on my feed, and thought it was worth sharing. Your thoughts appreciated.

- Full Disclosure: I do not have a CAR. Deployed to the Middle East twice during the Ceasefire. Got out before OIF/OEF were fully engaged. Was tagged for recruiting duty so likely would not have been deployed had I reenlisted.

Full story:

Master Sgt. Orlando Reyes was taken aback when he was ridiculed on social media for not having a Combat Action Ribbon after being named the 2014 Military Times' Marine of the Year.

While Reyes, a logistician, had three deployments to Iraq under his belt, his duties had never put him in a position to participate in a combat engagement.

"I didn't expect it to go so far," Reyes said of the criticism he experienced. "In today's era of social media and anonymity of computer posts, people are going to say what they want and there's no repercussions. They think, because of the rack of someone's chest, they have insight into that individual."

The growing discord surrounding Combat Action Ribbons — the award issued by the sea services for active participation in ground or surface combat — is troubling some leaders.

The online criticism illustrates an increasingly vocal perspective among Marines, especially those in the ground combat community. This perspective holds that a Marines' worth and authenticity is closely connected to combat experience, and that those who lack this experience are less deserving of respect.

In some ways, this viewpoint is a natural outgrowth of 14 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford is making it clear that he has no patience for it.

"The coin of the realm is the eagle, globe and anchor," Dunford told Marine Corps Times in a February interview. "It doesn't matter what [military occupational specialty] you have, it doesn't matter what deployments you've been on, it doesn't matter what ribbons are on your chest — it's about being a Marine."

'Stacking each other up'

When Dunford named Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green as his senior enlisted adviser in January, most Marines expressed interest in his background and the reputation he'd built as a thoughtful and involved leader. But a loud minority couldn't get past the stack of ribbons on his chest.

Green, a career artilleryman, did not have a Combat Action Ribbon.

"No CAR ... not the right guy for the job," one reader groused on Marine Corps Times' Facebook page following Green's selection. Others complained that the newly chosen sergeant major of the Marine Corps didn't measure up to other senior leaders who had earned combat valor awards.

Green took the comments in stride.

"We don't go around counting one another's ribbons, and, you know, kind of stacking each other up," he told Marine Corps Times. "We're actually too busy to do that."

When a Marine is tested in combat, Dunford said, how he or she performs is important. But, he added, the same can be said for every task and field to which Marines are assigned.

"Most Marines don't pick their MOS," he said. "Most of us do things that the Marine Corps tells us to do. And it really is about the quality of your performance in the task that you've been assigned that's most important, once you wear the eagle, globe and anchor. And that's how I'm going to approach this issue."

These comments from Dunford, a decorated infantry officer, represents a rebuke to the grunt-centric culture that glorifies combat experience above all else. What remains to be seen, though, is whether the commandant's message is enough to change the culture — or if only time can do that.

Green isn't the only Marine leader to face criticism for lack of a Combat Action Ribbon. Now-retired Gen. James Amos, the 35th commandant and the first from the aviation community, received so much heat online for his lack of a CAR that an aide once jumped into the fray to defend him.

"[Amos] has been in many a fight ... probably killed more enemy with his F-18 than any single company of grunts," the staffer wrote in a Facebook posting before thinking better of it and deleting the comment.

The division is a relatively new challenge for the Corps.

The Combat Action Ribbon did not even exist until February 1969, when the Navy and Marine Corps adopted it in the midst of the Vietnam War. It was retroactively applied to combat engagements stretching back to 1961, and later extended to cover combat dating from the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack that marked the U.S. entrance into World War II. The Coast Guard would adopt the Combat Action Ribbon much later, in 2008.

Marines evacuate the area as an MV-22B Osprey lands
Marines evacuate the area as an MV-22B Osprey lands in Thailand during during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014. There is a divide between some Marines who believe combat experience trumps all, and those who feel it should be respected, not revered. (Photo: Cpl. Zachary Scanlon/Marine Corps)
And prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Combat Action Ribbons were a rare sight rather than an expected one.

Andrew Northam, a Marine infantry veteran who served from 1990 to 1994, recalled the reverence that surrounded the CAR during that largely peacetime period.

"[CAR recipients] were more revered when I was in," Northam said. "A guy had three Combat Action Ribbons in my unit and he was like a god to us."

Because there were so few opportunities to earn a CAR, he said, they weren't treated like a badge of authenticity. And combat experience wasn't seen as a rite of passage among Marines, as it sometimes is today.


Northam, who deployed to Somalia in late 1993 to support Operation Support Hope, earned a Combat Action Ribbon there, but did not receive it until years later when it was retroactively authorized after he had left the service.

Receiving the award, even late, made Northam realize its significance as a recognition of what he experienced.

"When we looked back on our experience in Somalia, we always thought we should have gotten it; we felt a little robbed by that," he said. "We were taking mortar fire, in an offensive posture. It was a little bit of vindication having that."

Still, Northam believes the hype surrounding the ribbon has gone too far. When news of Green's selection as the Corps' top enlisted leader broke, Northam fired back at Green's critics on the blog USMCLife, calling the belief that senior leaders needed to sport a CAR "fanatical."

"Marines do not get to choose their duty stations; you go where you are assigned," Northam wrote. "As we wind down our nation's longest period at war, the Corps is facing many challenges; two of the biggest are dealing with the overall military drawdown and more importantly, dealing with returning vets and [post-traumatic stress]. Can [Green] conceivably do this without that precious ribbon? I believe so."

An imperfect award

Even today, following a decade and a half of war in two theaters, Combat Action Ribbons are less common than some perceive them to be. According to Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, only 20,855 of the 184,567 Marines currently on active duty boast at least one CAR.

With combat arms fields — including infantry, artillery and mechanized units — making up roughly 22 percent of the active-duty force, that means less than half of active Marines in combat arms rate the award. That figure is likely to keep dwindling as wartime deployments are replaced with training, humanitarian and crisis response missions.

Logan Stark's Marine Corps experience was in many ways different from Northam's. He enlisted in 2007, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full swing.

An infantry assaultman, Stark was surrounded by Marines who had already deployed and earned their Combat Action Ribbon. There was definite pressure, he said, to join their ranks.

"When I was a boot, there was the whole concept of, 'you aint sh-- until you got your Combat Action Ribbon," Stark said. "When you're coming up in the fleet, especially the time that I was in, you felt like that was a requirement of being an infantryman in the Marine Corps. It became something that you strived for, that you needed to be that complete Marine."


But there was a dark side to the CAR obsession, Stark soon realized. While deployed to Afghanistan's Sangin valley in 2010 and 2011, Stark said he encountered Marines who would insert themselves into patrols they didn't belong on, just so they could earn their Combat Action Ribbon. The experience altered the way he viewed the award.

"Is it a badge of honor and do I wear it with pride? Yes," said Stark, now a filmmaker and writer for the website Funker350. "But it only holds so much weight. I don't think we should judge people based on whether or not they have it. For some reason, we want to use these really easily identified symbols ... When did we get away from getting to know a person and getting to know their background before judging them?"

Stark said he hopes the Marine Corps will find a balance in which combat experience is honored, but viewed with perspective.

"I want to hear about a person's experiences; I want to learn from their combat," he said. "It shouldn't be a pedestal thing; it should be a way to learn from each other."


Reyes, the master sergeant, said he also observed Marines going out of their way to get a CAR during his deployments to Iraq. The trend wasn't limited to junior Marines, he said; he saw troops that were senior to him finagle their way onto convoys and other missions outside the wire to earn the coveted award. When they did, Reyes said it wasn't only unnecessary, but dangerous.

Now assigned to School of Infantry-East out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Reyes said he encourages junior Marines to value their comrades' character and leadership qualities more than their ribbon stacks.

"We get so bent out of shape with these ribbons and awards that we sacrifice the most important thing to us as Marines: our integrity," he said.
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Responses: 44
SSgt Utilities Chief
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Yes, it's one of those "the grass is always greener" arguments. "You're not a real marine until you have graduated from boot camp" you graduated? Then " you're not a real marine until you finish MOS school and get to the fleet" you're in the fleet? Well, "You're not a REAL marine unless you've deployed", oh you have? Well "you're not a REAL marine unless you have seen combat and have a CAR to prove it" oh, you saw combat? "It doesn't matter, you can't be a REAL marine because you're a POG". Oh you're infantry? "You aren't a REAL marine because you haven't been through MARSOC or Force Recon"... So basically there is only like 12 REAL marines ever?!?.... It's just a big joke taken too far. Graduating from boot camp makes you a marine, at least morally by our standards. If you go by facts, and paperwork, then you are a marine the moment you sign the dotted line.
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Sgt Tw Lewis
Sgt Tw Lewis
5 y
Every Marine in the fleet has a job to do, and each job is vital to the mission and success of the Corps mission...period. Combat Infantry Vets do deserve the utmost respect, but the corps does not rotate around just that. A 3 tour recon amphib master would not be effective without the cooks supplying the chow, the clerk making the pay happen or the transport getting them there and back. The Marine Corps is a team, that's what makes us successful. Dividing into elitist special groups would make us another version of the army. ugggg.
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SSgt Utilities Chief
SSgt (Join to see)
5 y
Oorah Sgt Lewis. Exactly my point.
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Sgt Anthony Prince
Sgt Anthony Prince
5 y
Honestly, it is the bickering and "one up-ing" that is annoying. No matter how much of a divide there is in the Marine Corps, everyone will go to battle side-by-side with one another, no matter how big the arguments are.
I have never found such a feeling of camaraderie or family anywhere else, no matter how much of a pain some Marines can be.
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SSG Katherine Likely
SSG Katherine Likely
>1 y
I'm not a Marine - never was and never attempted to be - but, my Dad was. He served for 2 years during World War II and he often said that the rack is not the measure of a solider - only a solider can measure himself and find that he is not lacking because of want of a ribbon."
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SgtMaj Henk Brunsveld
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Keep the CAR for sure. In WWII the Bronze Star was created for any person that had engaged in a combat fire-fight and performed. Then it became a superior performance award and for exceptional Valor award. After the Bronze Star, the people fighting in the sky were left out, so the Air Medal was created. You'll have to read the awards manual your self to completely understand the how's and why's for that award. But, it was to be equal to the ground combat awarding of the Bronze Star. Times have changed. To fill the gap, the Combat Action Ribbon has been awarded since. A Drill Instructor, Embassy Guard and Recruiter all get a ribbon for their service. The Combat Action Ribbon is a personal award and should left as is. Everyone that goes into a combat zone gets medals, which covers who was there. Good enough.
The back biting, is regular, old fashion military shit talk. Just like DI's verse Recruiters. Air Wing verses Grunt, verse support. Recon has non-Airbone LEGS, non-Scuba are common air breathers, Static-Line Airborne are Dopes on a rope to MFF-HALO jumpers. It goes on and on. The Political Correctness attitude has got to end. Heck you can get NJP for talking with your hand in "fingers and thumb in a salute position" and that is over the top.
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CPT Quentin von Éfáns-Taráfdar
CPT Quentin von Éfáns-Taráfdar
5 y
I concur with you Sgt Maj. By the way the military medals were originally created by Napoleon because as he said, "Men are led by Trifles". The ribbon may be a trifle but what one has to do to get it is not necessarily so.
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SFC Medical Ncoic
SFC (Join to see)
4 y
old conversation that I just found but I think I could read it over and over...
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SGT James Elphick
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After 14 years of war I would be more concerned about someone having been in that whole time and not getting deployed. I initially felt the same way about the Army's Combat Infantryman Badge but once I saw that it was simply handed out in many situations (especially early on when no one thought there would be another chance) I let it slide and realized it was about the individual person and their experiences. I also think that with the wars winding down there will be a return to the reverence of the CAR as they will become rarer, and in a way, it might be a good thing.
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Cpl Christopher Bishop
Cpl Christopher Bishop
5 y
There are plenty of people who "Manned Up" in terms of getting themselves into Combat Arms jobs, things like Infantry, Combat Engineers, Artillery, etc...whose units just were not chosen at various times for deployment to (whatever combat zone) who would not have a CAR. There are also those who were such deployed but just didn't face any real action. I don't find that this is their fault.

It is therefore my belief that some visual indicator of this should be on ALL "Grunt" MOS staff. As a Marine, Im not really interested in us converting into what we view the Army BDU as "so many patches it disrupts the point of camouflage", but I have no issue with the USMC adding some kind of designation. That said, I know this stirs up all of the POG vs Grunt crap, which frankly I never really grasped that debacle anyway. People Other than Grunt...I dunno how this came to be something that POGs take such offense to. Did you put yourself into a potentially more risky jobskill? There are only 2 possible answers to that, Y or N. If not, then why all the whining about it? Then again I suppose such whining would be commensurate with the unwillingness to do so.

My only personal experience with the POG vs Grunt thing, is during the week before my Discharge, Im told by an Admin Gunny that I will have to return a week AFTER my EAS date just to pick up my IRR ID Card because "they are backlogged". And I admit my Grunt Bias say to me "That's why you're in the rear with the gear, and/or only have 1 ribbon per enlistment on.

Note: Unfortunately, due to the media glamorization of PTSD in recent years, there are some folks who would see a CAR and wonder if the individual sporting it is still PTSD-Free.

All of that said, I do have to admit, I wonder about General-grade Officers (Major General and up) put in command of (anything other than a pencil) whose senior-most awards are merely non-valorous versions of the "Thanks for hanging around" Bronze Star. And some of them don't even have that. Gotta wonder about the Vietnam Bronze Star recipients and how much turning in their graves goes on due to this watering down of awards...all in the interest of Feminization and making people "feel good" becoming more important than the tasks at hand.
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LCpl Leo Morrissey
LCpl Leo Morrissey
5 y
In 1965 we graduated from Boot Camp and we were told we are Marines and they told us every Marine is a rifleman. That is all I ever saw any Marine as a rifleman whatever Mos they had never came into it. Basically every Marine is a rifleman. I heard about higher ups in other services that flew in and flew out or just flew over Vietnam just to get the ribbons. In 68 they came through the barracks and gave us form to fill out where we saw combat and I put down 2 words Hue City. I never saw that as making us better than any other Marine it just separated us from those people that I heard about flying inand out or just over and going back somewhere safe. The DI's told us we are Marines and all Marines are rifleman and no Marine should be made to feel any less because of their MOS or CAR. We all joined for the same reason and with the same dedication and any of us would have done whatever we were ordered to do. Several months ago a nephew of mine graduated from MCRD San Diego and that is the first I heard of it I was trying to think of a delicate way it tell him it's not right. I read the new Commandants speach and he said he wanted to get back to the culture we are all Marines and all Marines are riflemen.
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Cpl Christopher Bishop
Cpl Christopher Bishop
5 y
I appreciate your spirit upon this matter, LCpl Leo Morrissey, however the facts remain:

A) We are not only speaking of Marines on this thread/forum/site.

B) These days, there are many individuals only it it "for the benes", who had no thoughts about doing a thing to preserve Freedom, they just take the least risky and least deployable positions so they can latch on to job security, school money, or healthcare. And there are some Officers who only went to college first because there may have been some dicey action happening at time frames near their high school graduation year, and they would rather go hide behind the safety net of student-status than join as soon as they would be eligible to do so.

C) Your era produced far greater men and women that today's "entitlement society" ever will. Feminization has historically been the last phase right before the fall of any arguably great empire or nation. And here lies America now.
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LCpl Leo Morrissey
LCpl Leo Morrissey
5 y
Cpl Christopher Bishop I want to believe the military will survive the lunacy being forced on the services. Vietnam made me aware there are Americans who hate America and are more than happy to betray America. The Cold War never ended the arms race and the collapse of the Soviet Union were just battles in the Cold War. The Marxists have been on a roll since they sold us out in Vietnam. I was separated from the Corp in 1969 and I was so disgusted I went back to Asia and I've been gone ever since. There has been an ongoing attack on Western culture, religion, history, values, morals and whats being forced on the military is just part of it. I saw an interview with General Giap after the war and he was asked about the Tet Offensive and the enormous amount of casualties they suffered. Giap said it didn't matter he said they knew that if they kept fighting the cowardly drug addicts in America would eventually turn public opinion against the war and they would win. So the so called peace protestors actually prolonged the war for several more years, killed tens of thousands more people were killed or maimed and the communist were handed the victory. The real war was being fought in America in the schools, the media and in politics and that is where we lost. Even though I've spent all my adult life in foreign countries I feel privileged to have been born and raised in America and an honor to have served my country in the Marine Corp. We were raised on united we stand and divided we fall and everywhere you look America is deeply divided and it started with war vs anti-war, black vs white, male vs female, old vs young, rich vs poor, normal vs perverted and even CAR vs no CAR. We are all Marines and we are all Americans and as for today's entitlement society President Kennedy said it best ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.
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