Posted on Jun 18, 2015
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Originally published on taskandpurpose.com:
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Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who led Allied forces to victory in Europe during World War II, had 10 ribbons on his uniform when he left the military after nearly 34 years of commissioned service. I checked into the visitors’ quarters on an Air Force base awhile back, and the 20-something check-in clerk had more ribbons than that.

Something has gone seriously awry in our awards process. While each of the services will justify its policies on a case-by-case basis, collectively there is a problem. If you were to walk around a typical base and didn’t know the meanings of the ribbons, you would either think that every service member is Audie Murphy, or that the military is a grown-up version of summer camp, where everyone gets participation ribbons. The second is closer to the truth.

Participation ribbons are where a lot of the excess comes in. Campaign medals honor serving in major campaigns and expeditions. Whether you fought at Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, that service is worth commemorating. Somewhere along the line, things got out of hand. I have two National Defense Service medals, and while I appreciated my first as a nice starter kit to keep my uniform from being completely blank when I joined, it’s not as if I swell with pride wearing it. The reason I don’t is because everybody gets one.

The point of an award is to show serving with some type of distinction, not just serving. A few years back, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal joined the National Defense Service Medal in the pantheon of uselessness. It’s given to everyone serving in the military during the “War on Terror,” which one might think was already covered by the National Defense Service Medal, but apparently one medal wasn’t enough. Now everyone in the military has two medals for successfully breathing.

If we first eliminate every award given for just showing up other than campaign awards, a lot of the problem stops right there. Awards such as the Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, and the Air Force Training Ribbon should be cast in the dustbin of history. Same for all of the special duty ribbons for recruiters, drill instructors, honor guards, and the rest throughout the services. You did your job. That’s what your paycheck commemorates. Why does that need a special ribbon?

Some people like the idea of looking at someone’s ribbon stack and knowing everywhere he or she has been. That’s what talking to people is for. We should honor serving abroad in combat theaters — that’s what military service is about, after all, but we don’t need to wear our entire personnel files on our chests.

Of course, the military also has issues with personal awards. The personal awards system is so convoluted that the only time anyone notices another’s personal awards is by their absence.

“Ooh, he’s done two tours and doesn’t have a personal award? Who’d he piss off?”

It’s hard to rein in on a unit level — as in arms control, if not everyone does it at the same time, you only end up hurting your own people. Haphazardly applied quota systems tend to make awards a matter of timing, just like budgets. At some points in an awards cycle, you need to walk on water to earn an award. At others, it may just require fogging a mirror.

This requires a Department of Defense-wide response. We need to dispense with end-of-tour awards. Your reward for a solid tour should be a solid fitness/efficiency report. Awards should be for discrete actions over a defined period of time — i.e., “impact” awards. If you really are a rock star, you will have had at least one particular task you shined at during a tour.

We can also phase out duplicative individual service and joint awards. Each service has its own individual medals for its lower awards, e.g., Navy and Marine Corps/Air Force/Army Achievement medals. There are also “joint” versions of these for serving in joint commands. The DoD should create uniform standards for these and institute a “Military Achievement Medal,” “Military Commendation Medal,” etc. To avoid “stack” creep during the transition, anyone who already has an individual service medal would receive his Military Commendation Medal as a device on his existing service award.

These medals are also awarded on wildly different difficulty scales. The lowest achievement medal is given for things ranging all the way from finding a piece of unsafe equipment to rewarding a entire four-year tour. We need to get used to using letters of commendation, meritorious masts, and letters of appreciation presented in formations and put in personnel files as rewards for day-to-day excellence and save the medals for the truly outstanding.

The services have generally been better at maintaining the integrity of combat awards. However, some rudder steers will help ensure that those who go above and beyond in combat operations receive the recognition they deserve. The Bronze Star in particular has become a fixture of controversy, because when given with a Combat Distinguishing Device, or “V,” it rewards valor in combat, while without, it rewards meritorious service in a combat theater. Let’s simplify that and award it only for actions in actual combat. Actions in a combat theater not involving contact with the enemy should receive a Meritorious Service Medal or similar award.

Additionally, the services have been inconsistent both internally and between themselves at awarding the two top awards: the Medal of Honor and the respective service crosses. For example, the Army is alleged to have downgraded a soldier’s recommendation for the Medal of Honor to a Silver Star due to possible non-related misconduct. Once these high-level awards pass a colonel’s desk, they need to go to a DoD-wide joint awards board. These awards are too hallowed to be given easily or denied capriciously.

De-escalating the awards arms race will better recognize the truly outstanding while not making senior personnel look like third-world dictators.

http://taskandpurpose.com/the-military-needs-to-get-a-handle-on-its-awards-process/
Posted in these groups: Us-medals Awards
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CAPT Kevin B.
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When I was young, Achievements had to be signed off by the Fleet Admiral, a 3 star. And if you were a Reservist, whatever was right, you got one less than an Active. Between 73-75 if you were an injured Reservist, good luck getting a Purple Heart because the White House didn't want the media to key into Reserves still being used. Ever since, there has been a dilution of the special nature of awards. We're nearly to the point of when everyone is special, no one is.

We haven't become as bad as the banana republics, Soviets, or North Korea, but we're headed there. So when you see an old service member wearing his/her small rack on Veteran's Day, just know they likely did some nasty stuff to earn that piece of Green.
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COL Mikel J. Burroughs
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Well, I think military awards and ribbons are very important for the morale of our service members. If individuals do a great job or perform in a meritorious fashion then they should be recognized. I'm a firm believer in the fact that an award needs to fit the action or measure of service performed. I always counseled my junior officers on how to write up awards and made sure they well deserved. Young men and women should be recognized for their selfless service and achievements. If we have a few ribbons that we hand out for completing Basic and Good Conduct, who cares? They have something to be proud of on their uniform, than so be it. Now, I do agree that handing out non-deserving awards or downgrading an award because someone is not liked or you have a buddy in the system and you put them in for nothing, definitely cheapens the experience and purpose. Just like every organization you will have that. Its unfortunate, but yes there are individuals that lack integrity in our military branches.
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PO3 Jay Rose
PO3 Jay Rose
8 mo
COL Mikel J. Burroughs, you definitely raise some fine points regarding awards. I agree that medals and ribbons are a huge morale booster, especially in two distinct categories. First, those younger service members that “want to be part of the club,” adding an award to their meager stack will definitely help do that while boosting the junior SMs morale. The other category that I would point out are the polar opposite ‘dinosaur’ SMs that have been in for a long time, and may feel that a major award will give them more respect by their subordinates and peers alike while at the same time maintaining their already good morale.

I seriously admire the fact that you trained JOs under your command on how to recognize who deserves an award, for what reason, and what the accompanying certificate would spell out as that one paragraph, the narrative, is the ‘meat and potatoes’ that will either make or break the meaningfulness of the award being presented. Awesome leadership trait!

I also can’t agree more regarding your views on Basic and Good Conduct awards. Sure, we know if someone is serving that they completed Basic Training. If they’re working and have an MOS, they obviously have been trained to do that very job. Even Good Conduct awards have a deep tradition routed in military history, and we are all about tradition! For the first reason I stated above (boosting the morale of junior SMs), there is most definitely no harm in handing out said awards.

I too am peeved by the fact that some services (the Navy — cough, cough) will either upgrade or downgrade the level of a well deserved award based on rank alone. I’m sitting here shaking my head, BTW. If an action deserves a specific award, than that is the award to be given to the SM. There should be no difference as to rank or time in service for how one is recognized for doing the exact same thing that someone else would be recognized for based on these facts alone. Period. The same goes for award quotas, awards are by design a tool used to recognize outstanding individual or group achievements that go above and beyond the regular call of duty. You simply cannot effectively put a timeline on this as we never really know when this will occur and in what frequency, something that is way too variable to be used under the guises of a quota system, and this directly correlates to the buddy system selectively hand-picking who receives awards that would otherwise not be realistic to give in the first place. Something needs to be done to alleviate this mess across all branches of the military.

I do have one additional peeve in lines with the OP, and that is that a “simplification” is long overdue in the military. Perhaps those extremes discussed by the OP are not entirely necessary, but I like the idea of a military-wide Commendation or Achievement award for example as it could greatly reduce ‘ribbon clutter’ while enforcing a culture of unity amongst our brothers and sisters across all branches. We still need to keep service-specific awards as they too are deeply rooted in a service’s particular traditions and should continue to be awarded in continuance of their proud traditions. The Navy’s Sea Service Deployment Ribbon is a shining example of one as the Army doesn’t have a similar award. If a soldier serves jointly with the Navy and earns one, there are no counterpart awards in the Army, so it would make sense for the Navy to present the soldier said award. When it comes to Achievement medals and the like, a DoD (or similar) award could be used by all branches.

The only remaining question would be regarding awards given specifically to reservists, should we have the same award available for both active duty and reserve SMs to further reduce clutter? I’d have to think about it, but my first answer would be to have one award instead of multiple.

~ Jay
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SFC Stephen King
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This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have a MSM it was originally downgraded for personal reasons and I said send it up to the approval authority hence I have a MSM. While I was deployed I saw BSM's given for sitting at computers or less based on rank.

I in-turn ensured all my Soldiers regardless received an ARCOM. In hindsight my father served 28 years and received an MSM for his service. I believe Awards should be earned not given.
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SFC Stephen King
SFC Stephen King
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SCPO David Lockwood I can understand that. My deployment was an eye opener but once I PCS'd I ensured to follow the regulation and that is the only reason I have my MSM.
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SCPO David Lockwood
SCPO David Lockwood
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SFC King I am very happy that you received your MSM. I know t was well deserved.
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SFC Stephen King
SFC Stephen King
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I got lucky.
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SGM Steve Wettstein
SGM Steve Wettstein
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SCPO David Lockwood - I hear ya Senior. When I retired. I did the rough draft write up for my award and had it for a LoM. My boss said that they would down grade it, even though in the last 10 years of service I had five combat deployments. I asked him to still submit it as a LoM and let them down grade it if they wanted to. He wouldn't even do that. Oh well.
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