Morale: More, Please Sir

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February 13, 2009: The U.S. Air Force has decided, by popular demand from air force personnel, to bring back the Good Conduct Medal for enlisted troops. Three years ago, it was decided to eliminate the award, mainly because there were too few air force personnel who didn't qualify for it. Since these awards are supposed to distinguish exceptional behavior, the Good Conduct Medal had, the air force brass reasoned, outlived its usefulness.

They reasoned wrong. The troops like their chest candy (ribbons they wear on their uniforms, or actual medal if they are wearing the fancy dress uniform). Just because nearly everyone got the Good Conduct Medal was no reason to eliminate the award. The reinstatement is retroactive, so no one will lose their ribbon.

 Since 1941, the U.S. Army (and the U.S. Army Air Force, which became independent in 1947) has been handing out the Good Conduct Medal. The award was given to troops who served for at least three years, and didn't get into trouble. The intention was to encourage a largely conscript force, many of whom didn't want to be in uniform, to behave themselves. It never really worked, at least it did not have a major impact on troop behavior. It did make it easy, when veteran troops were wearing their dress uniforms, to pick out those who had not been in trouble.

The U.S. military has been all volunteer since 1972. But, for all practical purposes, the U.S. Air Force has been all volunteer since the end of World War II. Even with the draft, there were still plenty of young men and women willing to volunteer for air force service. And given a choice between the high tech, and more comfortable air force, and the army, a disproportionate number of the volunteers went to the air force. The air force rarely had to take any draftees after World War II. Since everyone was a volunteer, that created a much more disciplined, and well behaved, force. A force that no longer needed a medal to tell them they are well behaved, or so the generals thought. But for a force that rarely sees combat, medals for all sorts of "good behavior", or "commendation for outstanding work", have proliferated. The marines, who see the most combat, give out the fewest medals. The air force, on the other hand…

 


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