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Editor’s Note: Following is a letter to Stars and Stripes from 16th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, responding to Stripes’ investigation into the the awarding of Bronze Stars during Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999.

Your series on the Bronze Star medals (June 4-5) grossly misled your readers. These medals were awarded according to established guidelines to people who deserved them.

The Air Force used a fair and equitable process with standards established by Executive Order 11046 and Department of Defense directives. These standards — which do not limit award of the Bronze Star to a specific geographic area — were applied consistently by a board comprised of combat leaders.

The executive order and regulation governing the award of the Bronze Star have always allowed us the flexibility to recognize heroic or meritorious service regardless of geographic location. The executive order says the Bronze Star may be awarded to any person serving with the armed forces who "distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight — while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party."

In fact, awarding the Bronze Start medal without a combat "V" device to deserving warriors outside the immediate combat zone is not unprecedented. During the Korean War, personnel stationed on Okinawa were awarded the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in connection with military operations against Northern Korea."

As the Air Force developed a global reach during the Cold War, an ever-increasing number of airmen were called upon to "engage in military operations involving combat," even though they were located thousands of miles from the shooting. During the Vietnam War, a number of airmen stationed on Guam were awarded the Bronze Star for their role in supporting B-52 operations over Southeast Asia.

What is most important is not the servicemember’s location, it is his or her meritorious service in direct support of combat operations. For Kosovo operations, air power missions originated from as far away as Whiteman AFB, Mo., Germany, Spain and England.

Servicemen and women, regardless of their location, who provided direct support to Kosovo combat operations, were eligible for and deserving of recognition for their valuable contributions to the war-fighting effort. The Bronze Star has always been one of the awards authorized for such personnel. The Air Force carefully followed all Bronze Star award guidance and our decisions to present it to Operation Allied Force participants were completely consistent with how this medal has been awarded throughout history.

Lt. Gen. Michael C. ShortCommander, 16th Air ForceAviano Air Base, Italy

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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