Friday, February 19, 2010

Medal Inflation, Part 3

Now it's time to say how I fall squarely on both sides of the Medal Inflation issue. I wrote earlier this week about Sgt. Oblivious. When he was swirling in the drain and failing as leader, he was also neglecting most other tasks that are part of managing a maintenance squad.

Most of the soldiers who served in our brigade got some medal for serving during the deployment. Enlisted men and junior NCOs got Army Commendation Medals, senior NCOs and junior officers got Meritorious Service Medals. The next medal up the ladder of importance is the Bronze Star, which I have written about in previous posts.

I got an Army Commendation Medal in 1979. I was very proud of this medal and kept it displayed on the wall wherever I lived since then. Very few soldiers in our battalion got ARCOMs back then. It was not just a participation award. But when nearly everyone gets a given medal, the medal becomes a participation award, like the very nice medal I got for participating in the Air Force Half Marathon on Tallil Ali Air Base last year. EVERYBODY who finished got one of these medals. I was happy with myself for finishing at all, but I was far enough behind the leaders that the best of them could have done a full marathon in the same time. Kids refer to participation medals as "you suck" awards. In my case, finishing on the far side of three hours, they are right.

I did not like the idea that the ARCOM I was so proud of became a participation award. But I ended up writing award citations for many of the soldiers in the squad of Sgt. Oblivious because his soldiers deserved the promotion points you get with an ARCOM just as much as the soldiers who had functioning squad leaders.

So while I thought medal inflation was wrong, I thought it was more wrong to let eight soldiers not get medals simply by neglect.

Teachers and professors are in the same position with their students. Do they grade fairly and then keep a good student from going to graduate school because her grades look low? Or do they grade like everyone else, help the student, and become part of the "everyone is above average" thinking? Tough decisions.

Maintaining standards in or out of the military is a constant battle. Everyone, especially those who admire a given standard, wants to be an exception or make an exception for someone they care about. That's how an Army combat unit, full of self-professed conservatives, can be as liberal as an East Coast art college when it comes to maintaining traditional standards on medals.