In 2014, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel initiated a review of the military awards program. A spokesman said, “He wanted to ensure that we’re appropriately recognizing our service members for their services, actions and sacrifices.” Specifically, the official reported that Hagel wanted to make the changes “by harnessing lessons learned from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The complete review of Hagel’s initial awards program is found in the Department of Defense (DOD) document entitled, Military Decorations and Awards Review Results.
I served as an Awards Clerk in Headquarters Company, 26th Combat Engineering Battalion, Chu Lai, Vietnam. During my tour there, I submitted a large number of awards including the Silver Star; Purple Heart; Bronze Star, with and without the “V” device (indicating it was a “valor” award rather than an award for achievement or service); Army Commendation Medal with and without the “V” device; Air Medal (awarded to those helicopter pilots supporting our battalion) with and without the “V” device.
Other medals were automatically received by personnel serving in Vietnam: Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Combat Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal. Similar types of medals are awarded to the men and women who have either served or are currently serving our country’s military.
Here are my views on some of these changes:
Medal of Honor and Other Valor Awards
All are sensible.
A 2009 Department of Defense document states, they will “recommend updating the Executive Order (EO) governing the Purple Heart to incorporate statutory changes subsequent to 1984, clarify intent of the Purple Heart, and emphasize required severity of wounds for eligibility.”
My issue with this statement are the words, “severity of wounds”. Historically, you get wounded or killed while under enemy fire, you qualify – period! Having any discussion about these words makes no sense whatsoever. However, the addition of adding traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to the Purple Heart requirement is certainly sensible and is actually overdue: this should have been done years ago.
All make sense and adding a Combat “C” device is a welcome addition.
The biggest change here is the ability to give awards to pilots of unmanned air vehicles (UAV), more commonly called drones, and other cyber-warfare personnel. This will be accomplished with the “introduction of a “remote impacts” device, signified by an “R”, to be worn on the relevant decoration. The purpose of the medal is to recognize service members who use remote technology that directly impacts combat operations.”
This squelches the firestorm that erupted when active duty and veterans became outraged with the DOD proposal to give these behind-the-scenes military personnel a special medal called the Distinguished Warfare Medal.
Joint Awards Authority and Eligibility
Most changes as stated make sense except the phrase: “awards must be performance-based and not based on completion of a tour of duty or deployment.” This is not made clear in this document whether an award is a ribbon or medal.
Tours of duty for military personnel are typically recognized by ribbons or medals to identify where one served. However, this document does not distinguish which one or both to which it applies.
Army veterans who served in Vietnam remember we received either an Army Commendation Medal or Bronze Star for our service there based upon our rank! Basically, all senior enlisted and officers received the Bronze Star and the rest of us received the Army Commendation Medal.
Finally, it should be noted that this new directive does not apply to awards previously submitted prior to this announcement.
Note: Here is some background information that relate to this article:
1. For those who are unaware of military valor awards, an official description of them is available online.
2. Executive Order 11016 is the creation of the Purple Heart by President George Washington. The Purple Heart is the oldest medal given by the U.S. Military. See A Brief History of the Purple Heart for more information.