Morale: Above And Beyond In A Far Off Land

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December 22, 2009: A U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant was recently awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions during a battle in Afghanistan six months ago. Gunnery Sergeant John Mosser was, along with a marine captain Danny Strelkauskas (who received the Silver Star), leading a force of 22 marine reconnaissance troops when they ran into a large force of Taliban. The enemy were more numerous, and had the high ground. But Mosser disregarded the enemy fire to retrieve wounded marines and quickly helped devise and execute the plan to break contact with the enemy. Air support was then called in to hit the enemy, who fled. One marine was killed and four were wounded. Mosser's actions were considered crucial for the success of the operation, and limiting marine casualties.

The Navy Cross is the second highest award for valor in combat. The Silver Star is the third highest award, the Medal of Honor is the highest. Only 32 Navy Crosses and Air Force Crosses and Distinguished Service Crosses (the army equivalent) have been awarded for ground troops, since September 11, 2001.

When it comes to medals for valor, higher standards being applied in Iraq and Afghanistan, than in previous wars. Part of this is because there have been some dramatic changes in how combat was conducted. Many people outside the military have not noticed that the casualty rates in the current war are the lowest in modern history. For example, you were three times more likely to get killed or wounded in Vietnam, versus in Iraq (2003-9). Casualty rates are even lower in Afghanistan. This is the result of much better trained troops, better protection (truly bullet proof vests) and more effective weapons and equipment. Smart bombs, UAVs, night vision equipment, personal radios (for each infantryman), computers all over the place. It’s a different kind of war.

Moreover, most of the casualties are from roadside bombs, not what we typically think of as combat. That said, if we were fighting World War II with today's troops and equipment, we probably would have had  twice as many Medals of Honor (MoH)  during the last five years of fighting. That translates to another four, MoHs. Those guys got Distinguished Service Crosses (DSC) or Silver Stars instead, and most of them are still alive (all the Iraq/Afghanistan MoHs have been awarded to those killed in combat). If you went over the citations (recap of events) for the DSCs and Silver Stars awarded during the last seven years, you could probably pick out the four additional soldiers or marines who would, under World War II criteria, qualify for a MoH. But if you asked these troops about it, they would probably shrug. That’s because you do the deed to help your buddies, not to win a medal. But that’s another story.

 


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