For the last two weeks, along with my other duties, I have become the squad leader for 4th squad and have been writing awards. Earlier this month I was writing achievement awards for several soldiers who were exceptional in the first month after we arrived in Iraq. Now I am writing what are called service awards--awards for the entire deployment. "But wait!" One might say, "Aren't you just half way through your deployment? How can you write an award for the period from now until when you leave?"
That's easy. I project. I assume that the best conduct and performance I have seen over the first six months will continue and write the award accordingly. The more specific and fact based the award justification is, the better the chance it will go through. Many of the soldiers in my unit have already done some very good things and achieved some of their goals, so there is a lot to write about. And for the rest of the deployment, if I am wrong and the soldier in question were to become "Low Speed and High Drag" (Here and in NASCAR High Speed and Low Drag describes the top performers.) then the award could be withdrawn before it is given. It is much easier to cut an award at the last minute than create one.
And if you ask, "What if one of our soldiers rescues three babies and five kittens from a burning building?" or a similar act of gallantry. Before the kittens can lick the soot from their fur, someone can write an achievement award for a specific act of bravery that can be given in addition to the service award.
So most, if not all, soldiers are at least recommended for a service award. My wife and other professors could explain why. It's a lot like grade inflation. If someone serves a whole year on deployment and does not get an award, there is some reason for a future promotion or evaluation board to believe that soldier is below standard. As with Lake Woebegone Minnesota, all the soldiers are above average, so nearly everyone gets a service award.
If you think that is bad, consider the situation on my deployment back in the 1970s. Back then combat soldiers who were simply doing their jobs watching the border got no awards. But the higher headquarters staff all got awards. I know this because I got a couple of certificates for distinguished tank gunnery while serving as a tank commander for nearly two of my three years in Germany. But at the end of my deployment, I worked in public affairs full time and got soldiers in our brigade in the Stars and Stripes newspaper and all over the post newspaper. For that I got an Army Commendation Medal. I think it's better now that nearly everyone gets a medal than the situation before when mostly the rear-area guys got the medals.