Morale: A Bronze Star Tragedy

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November 26, 2010: The U.S. Army has reported that some 857,000 medals have been awarded to the 1.2 million soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's 48 percent as many medals awarded during World War II, when six times as many soldiers served overseas. It's also 30 percent of those awarded during Vietnam, where 25 percent more soldiers served. This odd pattern is the result of the excessive number of medals given out during the Vietnam war.

This has not been forgotten. Five years ago, American troops began grumbling about what was perceived as disrespectful use of Bronze Star medals as "attaboy" awards for officers and senior NCOs who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for lower ranking personnel you want to pin a medal on for no good reason (like giving an IED victim, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, something in addition to a Purple Heart). This inflation tends to be less with the higher awards, especially the Medal of Honor, as events leading to receiving these are extensively investigated, and often publicized.

This awards inflation was a very unpopular aspect of the Vietnam war, and became a major embarrassment after the 1983 Grenada invasion (where the army tried to award more medals than there were troops involved, but the public caught wind of it and forced the brass to back off.) It was feared that another such scandal appears to be brewing. Compared to World War II, that is what is happening. The only good news is that it is not as bad as it was during Vietnam.

In the American military, awards for valor go from the Bronze Star (which can also be awarded for non-combat accomplishment), the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. There are also several lesser awards for non-combat service, plus the Purple Heart for those wounded or killed in combat.

 

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