As the United States and NATO missions in Afghanistan transition away from combat operations, the number of stolen valor videos, pictures, and claims continue to increase. What draws so much attention towards this from both service members and media alike, and what can be done about it?
A 2014 Gallup poll identified that confidence in the military tops “74% of Americans having either a great deal of confidence or quite a lot of confidence in the institution.” (Riffkin, 2014). This places them at the top of the list above organized religion, the police, and even the presidency. With 99.5% of the United States abstaining from military service, and more than 14 years of constant warfare on the part of the 0.5%, seeing someone wearing a uniform they should not be – matters.
It is not just the wearing of unearned awards that bothers us. It is the fact that someone who did not sacrifice has the audacity to wear the uniform seeking honors in the first place. Even service members who have not deployed are subject to multiple PCS moves, months away from family, unpredictable work hours, and stress – all in service for their country. As is the case with most military professions, shared misery creates shared comradery. When a service member gives their all, day in and day out, the uniform may feel like a burden to them, but they continue to wear it because they are serving their community and country.
When the military becomes a revered institution, people will look up to its members and wish to be one. As the gap between civilians and the military continues to widen, those who choose not to join may decide to put the uniform on as well. To service members, this is the ultimate form of personal disrespect. For the civilian who does not understand the issue – it would be comparable to wearing a police uniform when you are in fact, not a police officer.
Service members have sacrificed their lives fighting for this country both here and abroad. Our heartbreak makes the back pages of newspapers and passing remarks on the news, but to the people who serve, it is as though we have all lost a brother or a sister in arms. The uniform, besides a direct representation of our service branch, is our shared experience, and one that we willingly perform together.
Some retired service members actively search for stolen valor cases, catching politicians, community leaders, and citizens alike. Others see someone wearing the uniform incorrectly and make an on the spot correction, only to realize that the individual is not actually in the military. No matter how it is discovered, it is important to realize that there is a law against it. H.R.258 the Stolen Valor act of 2013 states that it is illegal to “inten[d] to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, [by] fraudulently hold[ing] himself or herself out to be a recipient of
- a Congressional Medal of Honor,
- a distinguished-service cross,
- a Navy cross,
- an Air Force cross,
- a silver star,
- a Purple Heart,
- a Combat Infantryman’s Badge,
- a Combat Action Badge,
- a Combat Medical Badge,
- a Combat Action Ribbon,
- a Combat Action Medal, or
- any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.”
So what can you do? If you are a business representative and believe someone is trying to use the uniform to gain unearned military benefits, ask to see their military identification. If they do not have it, tell them you cannot provide military benefits without supporting identification. If you see them on the street, while you may be inclined to become aggressive, do not find yourself on the wrong side of the law by threatening to harm them. Inform them that the uniform is authorized for wear by service members, and if you feel they are breaking the law as posted above, feel free to contact your local police to help resolve the situation.
At the end of the day, honoring someone for their dedicated service is just fine, but claiming those honors without serving is likely breaking both local and federal law, as well as dishonoring the very service members they are claiming to be a part of.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.