As a former British soldier, I’ve taken part in a few bemused discussions about what all those medal ribbons US soldiers wear are actually for. When I joined, it was common to see British Senior NCOs with a single ribbon, the green and purple of the General Service Medal that was awarded for time spent in Northern Ireland. If they’d managed to conceal all their assorted crimes for 15 years, they might have the Long Service and Good Conduct medal as well, although in the work hard/play hard culture of the 1980s Army those weren’t quite as common. Now, it’s more common to see three or four ribbons. I left the service with six; five of them were campaign medals and the last was awarded at the Queen’s golden jubilee.
Obviously, the US Army does things differently; awarding things like the Army Service Ribbon on completion of training. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just a different approach to things, although it does lead to some amusing confusion. I’ve had US personnel assume I’d only been serving a couple of years because I was a corporal with five medals (a UK corporal is roughly equivalent to E-5, and I’d done operational tours in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq as well as a stint in Belfast). Mostly it’s all harmless fun though.
Flicking through AR600, however, I’ve found something that strikes me as not so harmless. According to US Army regulations, if a soldier’s entire conduct hasn’t been rated “honourable,” they’re not eligible to receive any medals or awards – right down to them being graded overweight, although a general can issue a waiver for this. So if you tend to forget who you’re talking to after a few beers, or bar fights always seem to break out right beside you, your chances of ever winning an award for valor are pretty slim.
This is just not something I can agree with. Military history is full of colorful characters who had appalling disciplinary records but went on to perform acts of great heroism, which were then appropriately recognized. Sergeant Alvin C York won the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1918, but in 1917 he’d tried to avoid the draft by claiming he didn’t want to fight (despite being a notorious bar brawler). Colonel Blair “Paddy” Maynard, a founder member of the SAS, was an even worse bar brawler but repeated acts of bravery earned him four Distinguished Service Orders.
Heroism is heroism, and doesn’t become less meritorious because the hero in question has strayed from the path of righteousness in the past. If AR600 had been applied in 1918, Alvin York’s incredible bravery would have gone unrecognized, because he didn’t want to join the Army and tended to hit people when he’d had a few drinks. It’s worth noting that the exemplary conduct of Gefreiter A Hitler would have ensured he still got his Iron Cross. Disciplinary issues are no bar to a soldier rising above themselves to achieve remarkable things, and the awards system should recognize that by staying firmly separate from routine G1 issues. Military law has plenty of ways to deal with breaches of the regulations, but a childish refusal to give out well-earned medals shouldn’t be one of them.
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.