23 May 2010

Awards: No one will ever be happy

  • 7 October 1943: The US Army institutes the "Combat Infantryman Badge", to make the infantry a more appealing option for potential recruits. Well, it was either create a new badge or refer to all infantry privates as "Fighter". No kidding.
  • January 1945. The Army creates the Combat Field Medic Badge, in response to criticism that medics, who often braved fire to rescue wounded infantrymen from the battlefield, were not receiving combat awards.
  • 2 May 2005: During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers in non-combat specialties find themselves increasingly involved in combat duties. Thus, the US Army created the "Combat Action Badge" to recognize combat service for Soldiers of all military occupational specialties.
  • Sometime between 2005 and now: Soldiers occasionally put themselves in harm's way for the sole purpose of being fired upon, thus earning a CAB--a practice known as "CAB Hunting". It also leads to second and third order effects, as Boss Mongo points out:
Say 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Alpha Company gets in a dust up which meets the prereqs for the award of the CIB (or CAB, if A Co is an armor unit), and after sworn statements and testimony as to the particulars of their firefight are taken they are awarded their highly coveted CIBs (or CABs) on a Sunday afternoon formation with much ado and hailing of their new bona fides as no-shit warriors, certified killers of men, owners of the official combat concert T-shirt. Now, what do you think, as patrols start exiting the wire on Monday morning, the young soldiers (and officers) of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squads, 1st Platoon, A Co, not to mention 2nd and 3rd Platoons, are focused on when they roll out into the ville? They want to get their shit. Be damned if those slackers from 1st Squad are going to get one up on us. This is not, in my opinion, the way you build a band of brothers...I'm not sure that this is the mindset we're shooting for, as we battle insurgents in a highly populated urban area.

The kids that roll out into Mosul every day, day after day, should be awarded the combat device for the job they do; regardless of whether they, personally, are engaged. They are assuming a huge risk on a daily basis. In many ways, making contact with the enemy is actually desirable; for once, you get to engage the bad guys in a stand up fight, instead of worrying about exploding trash piles, push carts, 2-liter soda bottles and vehicles. Not to recognize each and every one of the troops that roll out of the wire every day, expecting to make contact or be engaged in some way, shape, or form, is a travesty.

The situation is akin to an old SF or LRRP guy in Vietnam, that spends his days snooping and pooping the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, calling in airstrikes from B-52's on lucrative targets, and who after a year of living at the tip of the spear goes home without a CIB because he was never "personally present under hostile fire." That's just crazy.
Indeed, the curious conditions of counterinsurgency have led to NATO's consideration of a "Courageous Restraint" medal, rewarding those troops who hold fire in the face of an active insurgency to save civilian lives. Naturally, anything having to do with awards seems to be met with outrage and complaining, including sources such as tactical genius Rush Limbaugh, who laments that, soon, the Taliban will be dressing like civilians in order to hide from NATO forces. (News flash: they already do, and not because "France" is instituting a "no shooting" medal)

Limbaugh goes off on one of his usual ill-informed and nonsensical rants on those "liberal" counterinsurgents, producing this gem:
We've got [a NATO spokesman] saying, "We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves." Well, that's comforting. Is that in the policy manual someplace, somebody have to take a test on that? "'We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves,' [the NATO spokesman] said. 'Valuing restraint in a potentially dangerous situation is not the same thing as denying troops the right to employ lethal force when they determine that it is necessary.'
Uh, yeah, it is explained in the "policy manual". If by "policy manual" you mean FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, written by a whole bunch of "liberals". And if by "liberals", you mean combat vets:
1-152. Often insurgents carry out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of enticing counterinsurgents to overreact, or at least to react in a way that insurgents can exploit—for example, opening fire on a crowd or executing a clearing operation that creates more enemies than it takes off the streets. If an assessment of the effects of a course of action determines that more negative than positive effects may result, an alternative should be considered—potentially including not acting.
It also wouldn't be the first time we've awarded military service members for "doing nothing". Captain William McGongale received the Medal of Honor for refusing to fire on Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats, when they mistook the USS Liberty for an Egyptian freighter during the Six-Days War.

What do you think? Is a "courageous restraint" medal going too far? If we already give out frivolous awards, such as Bronze Stars for non-combat action, what difference does a "courageous restraint" medal make?


Ian said...

I don't have a dog in this fight, but up here, the Canadian Forces recently scrapped plans for their own combat action badge after a lot of arguments like those made here. Some of the most bitter complaints came from the combat arms themselves, who said giving them special recognition for engaging and closing with the enemy in a war was like pinning a 'thanks for showing up to work' badge on their uniforms. What do you think the infantry DOES? they asked.

In any professional army, there are two job competencies that are so absolutely, bone-basic fundamental that they are assumed to be possessed by anyone in the profession of arms - knowing when to pull the trigger; and arguably more importantly, when not to. I can't say I've never met a soldier who didn't have a very practical understanding of 'courageous restraint' already.

That said, good luck with your debate.

Paul said...

I was a Lurp in Vietnam. I'd like to say that I never saw a Lurp or an SOG SF trooper who did not have a CIB, except newly-arrived replacements. Our missions consisted mainly of "sneak and peaks," ambushes and prisoner grabs. As a company, we even did an infantry sweep once. I'd say that roughly 30% to 40% of our missions resulted in some form of enemy contact. We ambushed them, they ambushed us a number of times in hot LZs, they'd discover we were there and pursue, we'd get ambushed as part of a larger group on a "stay behind" insertion -- there were countless ways in which contact occurred.

I'm proud of my CIB, but there were so many others that pulled our bacon out of the fire on so many occasions -- particularly chopper crews -- that it was a little unfair to them not to be honored with an equivalent device. I flew over Firebase Airborne the day after it was nearly overrun by the NVA. Our guys suffered 22 KIA and 66 WIA. There were at least 300 NVA bodies both outside the wire and inside the wire. Any infantryman who was there got a CIB if he didn't already have one. None of the cannon cockers did because they were in the wrong branch. I seriously doubt whether they cared, but from a recognition standpoint, it was unfair.

In our war, contact with the enemy was not something that you had to search hard to find. Now, though, we're in a different kind of war and if a little chunk of painted metal is causing troops to engage in actions outside the rules of engagement, or within the rules of engagement but still imprudent, then it's time to assess the appropriateness of issuing the award. I might add, though, that if this is going on, it's a real black eye for these troops' chain of command. If their officers and NCOs have so little control over them that they're doing this, someone ought to be taking a close look at the fitness of these men to hold any sort of command responsibility.

There's one other point: it seems as if everything is mechanized now. That means that infantrymen have a lot more firepower at their disposal than they used to and, from what I gather, much of the improper activity involves engaging people with large-caliber weapons. If these guys were out walking around, like most infantrymen in history have done, this abuse probably would not be taking place.