Saturday, December 6, 2008

What does "decorated" really mean?

So, Matt Apuzzo has written an article discussing the most recent Blackwater indictments. To the average reader, I would suspect this article might make them question the indictments, as Apuzzo mentions that "each man has received honors for his service in some of the world's most dangerous places, from Bosnia and Afghanistan to Iraq." Unfortunately, either Apuzzo is carrying water for someone, or he is just completely clueless when it comes to military medals.

I did a very basic search of these "decorated veterans" and discovered that decorated is really a relative term. By Apuzzo's definition, every single soldier who went to Iraq is a decorated veteran. I've previously discussed the problems with the current platitude that every soldier is a hero "just for serving" which I think is total bullshit. This change in the definition of heroism demeans the soldiers, demeans real heroes who perform above and beyond in fields like medicine, firefighting, police work, and sometimes even the military. But the man who sits behind the Finance Desk and hands out cash to soldiers so they can buy some kebabs on the street is not a hero. (Well, he might be a hero to me, since he allows me to buy some kebabs, and there's nothing that compares to ground sewage-fed lamb roasted over a wood flame.)

Between them, these are the "medals" the "decorated veterans" and heroes achieved (I've neglected a number of Navy-specific medals which correlate with the Army ones below):

Driver & Mechanic Badge: this is my favorite. Awarded to enlisted soldiers who have received training, and subsequent qualification, to operate or repair military motor vehicles.
Army Achievement Medal: to recognize the contributions of junior officers and enlisted personnel who were not eligible to receive the higher Commendation Medal or the Meritorious Service Medal. (the lowest award you can get)
Army Commendation Medal: presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy force, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star , the Valor device ("V" device) may be authorized as an attachment to the decoration. Please note, that with the exception of a Marine in Fallujah, none of these men even lists a "V" device on their Arcom. And NONE of them have a Bronze Star.
Army Good Conduct Medal: awarded to any enlisted member of the United States military who completes three consecutive years of "honorable and faithful service". Not exactly an "award" so much as a good attendance record.
Armed Forces Reserve Medal: complete a total of ten years service as a member of a Reserve or National Guard component of the United States military. Again, an attendance award.
Army Service Ribbon: awarded to any member of the U.S. Army (including Reserve and National Guard components) who complete "initial entry training."
National Defense Service Medal: for service during the War on Terrorism. "Service" incidentally is any active duty service, at home, abroad, on a base, etc. All the active duty soldiers in my Basic Training class received one of these.
Combat Infantry Badge: presented to officers, warrant officers and enlisted soldiers who participate in active ground combat. (Notice, although a person with a CIB has seen "combat", it doesn't imply anything about their actions in that combat. Frankly, in Iraq, you can earn it if a mortar round goes off close to you...)
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal: awarded for participation in "any military campaign of the United States for which no other service medal is authorized." In other words - a deployment before the Iraq Campaign medal was formalized (or maybe a deployment to Bosnia).
Overseas Service Ribbon: performed military tours of duty outside the borders of the United States of America.
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal: those military service members who have performed service in the War on Terrorism from September 11, 2001 to a date to be determined. This not an overseas award, this is for those who were called up to serve in the United States. So, all those National Guard guys guarding the airports, the soldiers working at MUICs, etc.
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal: originally for an overseas deployment anywhere, nowadays it just means you were deployed under GWOT to somehwere besides Iraq or Afghanistan.
Iraq Campaign Medal: awarded to any member of the U.S. military who has performed duty within the borders of Iraq (or its territorial waters) for a period of thirty consecutive days or sixty non-consecutive days.
NATO Medal: deployed with a NATO mission. (Note there is a NATO meritorious medal as well, which none of these men earned...)
Presidential Unit Citation: granted to the unit a soldier served in, not the individual. Soldiers who were in the unit when it received it get to wear the award forever, but it has no bearing on the actions of the individual.

So, all these decorations mean is that these men were in the military and deployed somewhere. Nothing else. No Bronze Stars, no "V" devices, nothing that would indicate actual "heroism." In one way or another, they are all awards for attendance.

And just to establish my credentials:

Army Service Ribbon. Army Commendation Medal. GWOT Service Medal. GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Combat Action Badge. National Defense Service Ribbon. Iraq Campaign Medal. (All awards for attendance).

I usually tell people I got an ARCOM for sweating. EVERYONE gets them. The fact that this medal is the highest medal these five men have between them suggests to me that they didn't really do anything.

Except panic and shoot up a crowd of Iraqi civilians. I'm not going to use the term legal or illegal here, because that is up to the court who is hearing the case. I simply wanted to take apart the phrase "decorated veterans" and point out the silliness of the term.


Anonymous said...

I don't really disagree with most of your assertions, but I have to nitpick a few of them. Not every medal or award you listed is simply an " attendance" award. I am ex-army, and when a soldier qualifies with weaponry, and does so at the expert level, that is not simply an award given for "attending"the range. If you have ever been in a group of soldiers at the range you understand exactly what I mean.
Leadership awards, for attending courses such as PLC, or also not just attendance. You must excel, and perform to a higher degree. Obviously you can get that award for completing the course, but in my units, soldiers were participating based on qualification not just a Cattle call...
Finally, since were both veterans I really don't understand your negativity on qualification awards. No, it's not quite the same thing, but think about how many people don't qualify that are in that MOS field. The ones that just rock along, minimum standards, minimum PT test, that sort of thing.
I entered the army under the civilian acquired skills program, performed my job that I was trained as a civilian to do, for the army. I received two Army commendation metals, and I had to work my ass off for both of them. I really don't get your comments on that metal. You may have been somewhere where someone gave them out freely like someone would distribute Halloween candy… I was serving in Europe and that just wasn't the case in my experience. I am extremely proud to show my grandson the metals to decorate his grandfathers uniform.

Iraqi Bootleg said...

I was not intending to comment on the medals themselves. I am proud of my own medals (most proud of the Sharpshooter and CAB, since those, as you point out, are actually earned). I was simply pointing out that the Blackwater personnel were not "decorated veterans" in the sense that they performed anything during their deployments that would qualify for anything besides the standard ribbons and medals everyone who deployed gets.