I don’t mean any ill will against patriotic young people, or to be negatively critical, but didjaever see one of today’s Jr. ROTC members, a high school student who is enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps — in a dress uniform?

Merit badges for young scouts are good, but getting a ribbon, for example, for attaining a grade of “B” or better in a particular class, be in good academic standing, actively participate in cadet corps activities, and participate in at least 50% of all unit service programs. (awarded once per year.). That’s it. Participate, do well, and here’s your ribbon.

Where’s my ribbon for surviving 2019? I need to add it to all the other yearly ribbons I’ve won for getting through the years without a major heart attack, and those for practicing enough safety to undergo the number of long motorcycle rides without incident except for the time I totaled one bike.

Now for active duty folks. The military will give you a medal nowadays if you’re breathing and show up for work on time. Geez, if you finished boot camp you get a ribbon. Whoopie! You did something that everyone else did.

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It’s all well and good i guess for those who received team sports trophies for participation and graduated kindergarten complete with cap and gown. But it seems to me that awards and decorations have just gotten completely out of hand so the ones you really earned above and beyond the call of duty have little place beside those worn for serving a tour of duty overseas and does the same job as one who is stateside but gets no ribbon.

I never could figure out why i got a good conduct medal. I guess it means i didn’t get caught.

I served a couple of enlistments in the Air Force, 3X overseas including Vietnam, for a total of 7 years, 3 months, and 10 days. For my first assignment in a very remote area working rotating shifts for 15 months without a leave (vacation) I received nothing, not even a promotion, although the unit did get an outstanding unit award. Nowadays, most all units receive some type of unit award just for accomplishing their missions and members of the unit get either an achievement medal, commendation medal, or meritorious service medal depending on their rank. and, as all those who served in Southeast Asia, got the participation service medals.

I went back into the service, in the Navy, and managed to retire. Unlike many fellow officers who received a number of merit type medals, some at every assignment they served and reading their citation, sounds like they just did their job as expected. Allow me to let you on a little secret. I know some of those men who wrote themselves up for the medal, being the senior officer in their office, or had a friend do the write up, and in some cases the XO processed the write up simply because it was expected. In some cases it is expected that unless the officer fell on his own sword he got an end-of-tour award, usually a Commendation Medal or Meritorious Service Medal, depending on one’s rank. I know that in some commands today, someone is appointed to choose medal recipients and to write them up for the awards.

I did receive an Air Force Commendation medal for service in Vietnam. I was what was then referred to as a REMF, a rear echelon guy serving in a relatively safe zone working in an office doing intelligence work. There’s no doubt that the work I did was extremely important and probably saved lives, but it was nothing more special IMO than anyone else doing their assigned work. I noticed that it seemed to be for the Air Force REMFs of the Vietnam War, at least in my command, that for the rank of E-5 and below, one generally received a commendation medal and for those who were E-6 and above, a Bronze Star and they were automatically given at the end of one’s tour or at a commander’s call after they returned home. No heroics involved, just a job well done.

I served a number of different assignments while in the Navy, both in the Navy and with Marine Corps units. Reputation was a key factor in promotion in my profession, and other things in one’s career (getting one’s career ticket punched). I never had a great reputation. I was too radical in some ways, spoke my mind when I probably shouldn’t have, went outside the chain of command with suggestions and ideas, and in general never played the “game”, so to speak.

Just to relate one incident that will give you a better idea of dear ole Bob, at the end of one 2-year stateside tour of duty, I know I was being written up for an end-of-tour medal by the XO at about the same time a new CO was being assigned and a change of command ceremony rehearsal, which the XO was in charge of producing, was scheduled. I had had a super relationship to the old CO and had already established a good relationship with the new CO. The last week, I was in the process of cleaning out my office for a reassignment and told the XO that I would miss the rehearsal but I had done enough of them that I knew the procedure. I had never really gone through the XO much during that assignment, always going directly to the CO for various reasons concerning issues when they needed command attention. That was the second XO that I didn’t get along with well. In short, because I missed the rehearsal, he never forwarded my medal write-up, which suited me just fine. I didn’t need his or the command,s official rewarding compliments on my job. People who really knew me and my work knew my worth and accomplishments and that’s all that mattered to me.  (Thankfully, medals were not important in my particular field as to promotion boards).

I had had a couple TAD (temporary duty) assignments, including a deployment with deployed Marines unit to the Mediterranean and to the 2d Marine Division during Operation Desert Storm. Both of these assignments were very strenuous and demanding. Both times I left the units following their activities they were involved in and back to my permanent unit without even thinking of receiving any type of medal. I could have taken the time to recommend myself or have a senior officer, or even the command sergeant major with whom I had a cordial and working relationship, recommend me for a medal knowing full well that they would have been approved. Just not my thing and besides, at the times I never even thought about it.

So now I’m a veteran and member of various Facebook veteran groups. What I’m seeing now is some of the old farts who served back in the 1950s and 1960s are an entirely different breed from the guys who served in the late 1970s after the Vietnam War, and later, including Desert Storm and later Middle Eastern tours of duty of the 1990a and 2000s, who received so many ribbons on their chest they walk stooped over and since some of the new stuff is retroactive some veterans are busy having their records changed so they can get the stuff they weren’t awarded but are now qualified for. Then, there’s the “special” medals and participation certificates they are now eligible for by having “been there, done that.” It’s quite interesting watching the discussions on some issues, the difference of opinions between the old and the newer guys.

(Pet peeve, I never figured out why there no ground medals given to compensate for those serving on the ground while their peers received all those air medals for doing the same job but in a different environment).

I don’t understand it. Why not be satisfied with what you did and what you got when you did it and got it? And BTW, you know how to tell a real combat troop and hero? They never talk about it.


© Feb. 2018. Bob Haines
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED