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One year after NATO’s airstrikes against Yugoslavia ended, the military is finding itself in a quandary over how to recognize many of its troops who supported the effort.

On one hand, thousands of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel who provided direct support for the campaign from places such as England, Spain, France and Germany have been written out of eligibility criteria for the newly approved Kosovo Campaign Medal.

Meanwhile, scores of top brass have been handed the nation’s fourth-highest combat medal after never setting foot in the combat zone while working in many of the same places excluded in the campaign medal.

To help figure it all out, top awards and decorations officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force met at the United States European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, on Tuesday. High on the agenda was to hammer out new recommendations for awarding the Kosovo Campaign Medal.

"The conference was to get everyone at the table and make the recommendations and to do the right thing and work it through the chain of command," said a EUCOM spokesman, Army Maj. Mervin Brokke.

"It’s part of an ongoing staff action," Brokke said. "We’re gathering information from the services to see who merits the award."

As officials in Europe grappled with those issues, the Pentagon announced Tuesday it has assigned one of the Navy’s top admirals to review the controversial Bronze Star awards.

Vice Adm. Patricia A. Tracey, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary of military personnel policy, has been tasked with looking into "the concept of Bronze Stars being awarded to servicemembers who were not in the combat theater," said Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Tim Blair.

While at least four Navy captains received the coveted combat medal for their work behind desks in Naples, Italy, dozens more went to Air Force leaders — more than half commanding officers — for work that included setting up tent cities, giving briefings and managing supplies in places as far away from the fighting as Italy, Germany, England and even Missouri.

The Army has awarded no Bronze Stars for work supporting the war over Kosovo, or in the one year since as thousands of soldiers have taken up peacekeeping duties there.

But the Army would like to see the troops who were involved in supporting the war effort from bases in Germany be eligible for the Kosovo Campaign Medal.

Similarly, the Air Force has thousands of airmen not eligible for the award who did virtually identical jobs as those who are.

As it stands now, those eligible for the award must have served — on land or in the air — in Serbia (including Kosovo), Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and Slovenia or the waters and air space of the northern Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Troops now involved in peacekeeping duties in Kosovo also are eligible for the award.

Flightline crews who loaded bombs, turned wrenches and pumped fuel for planes night after night for jets flying into Kosovo from England, Germany, Spain, Turkey and from the States are not eligible for the award. But those who did the same in Italy are eligible.

That is, as the rules stand right now.

"The capability to expand eligibility is there, and we are aggressively pursuing it," said Lt. Col. Nancy Lee, chief of force programs for the Air Force in Europe and the senior Air Force representative at the meetings in Stuttgart.

The purpose of the meeting, she said in a statement, was to draft a proposal that EUCOM would present to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. The joint chiefs determine eligibility requirements for campaign medals, and all services must agree to those requirements.

"We have many people outside the designated area of eligibility who worked very hard during Operation Allied Force and directly impacted the success of the air campaign," said Chief Master Sgt. Vickie Mauldin, USAFE’s command chief master sergeant. "Their concerns are extremely valid, and we’re trying to do the best we can for them. We have rewarded our folks through the Air Force’s decoration system, but it would be great to see expanded eligibility for this campaign medal."

The first proposal offered up by the Air Force last year included personnel assigned to all Air Expeditionary Wings, all permanent Air Force units in Europe and the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which flew B-2 stealth bomber missions. Although these units outside the area of eligibility were not included in the existing criteria, the Joint Chiefs of Staff will consider exceptions, Lee said.

"It’s hard to say how it will turn out," Lee said. "Unfortunately, the exception may not include all personnel who supported the Kosovo operations."

The Bronze Star investigation

Read more about Stripes’ special investigation into the awarding of Bronze Stars in Kosovo in 1999, which resulted in a Pentagon review and a decision by Congress to stop the awarding of Bronze Stars to personnel outside the combat zone.


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