Leadership: February 22, 2001

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: The Army is engaged in its most persistent battle (again): should branches other than the Infantry have their own version of the hallowed Combat Infantry Badge? The badge was created in 1943 to provide special recognition to the infantry, who suffered the most casualties and lived in the worst conditions. Other branches began campaigns for their own awards (only the Medics succeeded), and some suggested that those who underwent similar hardships in similar danger (e.g., artillery forward observers, combat engineers) should get the Infantry award even if they were not in the Infantry branch. But the Army was dominated by Infantrymen who held fast to the idea that only those who suffered the most should get any kind of badge. Complaints about the award and how it is given out began with the first ones issued. Unlike the German "assault" badges (which required actually being shot at and shooting back on three separate days) or "hand-to-hand combat" badges (which required exactly that, three times), the American Combat Infantry Badge went to anyone who was assigned to the infantry branch and in a unit in combat. A few rear-area troops who never fired a shot in anger got the badge, while tankers and others who did "get shot at and shoot back" did not. Tankers in the Gulf War complained that they got no badge, while the mortar men of the tank battalion's mortar platoon got CIBs without having ever come under fire. This began the current round of the unending battle, with a call for creation of a Combat Armor Badge. Major General Bell, head of the Armor Branch, refused to support the idea, citing in an article in Armor Magazine that it would lead to divisiveness among armored troops, as those who had the badge would have advantages over those who did not. The response was immediate and hot, running (among armored troops) five-to-one against his decision. Tankers noted that the CIB didn't seem to have caused such problems for the infantry branch, and noting that promotion boards checked for combat duty in the records of those under consideration and would do so with or without a badge. Other critics noted that the Combat Infantry Badge would always be the premier award since it was the most dangerous to receive, and suggested that the badges for other branches could be made somewhat smaller. The Engineers were ready to demand their own badge as soon as the Combat Armor Badge was approved (and were ready, if things went badly, to graciously accept the Combat Infantry Badge instead). The artillery want their own badge as well, even if they (as combat units go) receive relatively little enemy fire in return. The pilots of the Army's Aviation Branch want something, perhaps a special symbol on their pilot wings, but the ground crews of those units think the pilots already have enough glory. Other branches suggested that some kind of General Combat Badge might be created for anyone, regardless of branch, who served under enemy fire. But such badges are thought by some to be inevitable. A proposal is under development for an Expert Armor Badge, which would be earned (as the Expert Infantry Badge is earned) by passing a series of tests. Once the Armor branch have this, other branches will quickly follow. And once Expert badges exist, it will take only the next conflict for the combat versions to appear.--Stephen V Cole

 


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