DOD to review 1,100 Iraq, Afghanistan medals to determine if they were awarded appropriately

The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration for valor awarded to servicemembers.

Orrin Farmer/U.S. Marine Corps

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 6, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense will review more than 1,100 Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross and Silver Star recommendations to determine whether the medals were awarded appropriately or should be upgraded to a Medal of Honor, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

“Although there is no indication that members were inappropriately recognized, the secretary determined that unusual Medal of Honor awards trends reported by the recent Military Decorations and Awards Review justified a review,” the Pentagon said in a prepared statement. “The secretary directed the review as a cautionary measure on behalf of the servicemembers who have performed heroically in combat.”

A defense official who briefed reporters on the review said only awards given after Sept. 11, 2001, were under review. The official also said there are approximately 1,000 Silver Stars and approximately 100 service crosses under review. 

Of those 1,100, the official said no medals were at risk of being downgraded. Instead, the review will look at two things: recommendations that did not result in a medal to determine whether one was merited and medals awarded to determine whether the honors should be upgraded.

In the case of a Silver Star, the honor could be upgraded, if warranted, to the next highest award, a service cross, and not a Medal of Honor, the officials said. 

The review was implemented, in part, because the first seven Medal of Honor recipients from Iraq and Afghanistan were deceased and each honoree since has been a living recipient. The Pentagon also said it noticed “an increased willingness” of commanders to upgrade recommendations submitted from subordinate commands as the wars progressed.

The announcement comes a day before the Pentagon is to roll out its recommendations for the medals system  The review of the 1,100 medals was part of a yearlong review by the Pentagon to overhaul the criteria for military medals and make each service’s honors more uniform, particularly in combat awards.

As a result of the review, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made 37 recommendations and created two new awards. Under the changes, servicemembers who operate drones or directly contribute to combat from a remote locations will be eligible for an “R” device to be worn on battle ribbons similar to the way the ¼ inch gold “V” device is displayed.

The Pentagon is also introducing a “C” device for “meritorious service under combat.” As part of the review, DOD established a uniform definition for combat that all services will be required to use: “The definition will encompass meritorious service while personally exposed to hostile action or while under significant risk of hostile action.”

The new uniform combat definition is meant to tighten how combat awards are distributed and its most direct impact will be upon the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service, which now will be awarded only “to individuals meeting the definition of ‘Meritorious Service Under Combat’,” according to a statement released by the department.

Whether a specific ground situation qualifies as combat – for example a servicemember operating at a base that takes indirect fire – is still left to the discretion of commanders on the ground.

The services will have one year to implement the changes.

Creating an award to honor the contributions drone pilots bring to the battlefield had a rocky start and the rollout of the “R” device will still need further definition.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta first announced the DOD would award a distinguished service medal for drone pilots in 2013. The proposal was quickly overturned by his successor, Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel, who believed the honors should be reserved for combat operations.

Under the new “R” device, pilots would be qualified and could pin the device to non-combat performance awards “to specifically recognize remote but direct impact on combat operations,” but the many analysts who churn through thousands of hours of surveillance to identify targets would not be eligible.

Twitter: @TaraCopp



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