Leadership: September 9, 1999

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The controversy over the number of medals being awarded by the US military continues to rage. In recent years, one soldier in four, one sailor in five, one airman in three, and one Marine in fifteen have received some kind of medal each year. Critics, many of whom have received such awards, complain that achievement medals are being awarded "for showing up" and commendation medals for "not screwing up". One Army Reserve truck driver has received ten achievement medals, none of them for anything specific. Critics charge that giving out so many medals cheapens them, while supporters of the policy note that "a pat on the back will not do for members of Generation X, they want something tangible". Particular controversy has ranged over the three soldiers captured by the Serbs in Macedonia, each of which received six medals. These included a UN peacekeeping medal, a NATO service medal, and a US Armed Forces Service medal, which every US soldier deployed to Macedonia received. They also received the Prisoner of War medal, which is automatic for American service members captured in combat. Most of the controversy centers on the award to the three of Army Commendation Medals, supposedly given for commendable service. Critics charge that the three men should have been disciplined for failing to fire back, but defenders insist that the Serbs "had the drop" on the three Americans and firing back would have been suicide. They were also awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered while held prisoner. While they were beaten rather than shot or stabbed, the award rules allow for this. Even so, critics note that "getting roughed up" earned them the same award as other veterans who were killed or maimed.--Stephen V Cole

The Pentagon has completed a secret review of the records of Japanese-Americans who received the Distinguished Service Cross (the second-highest award) during WWII. Some of those who were recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor may have their awards upgraded to the top medal if records indicate that they were originally downgraded due to racial prejudice. A similar review of African-American soldiers resulted in seven of them receiving such upgrades.--Stephen V Cole

 


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