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Read Rep. Hunter's letter to the House Armed Services Committee

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Lawmaker and combat veteran Duncan Hunter is proposing a panel of Medal of Honor recipients to serve as a “sounding board” for valor award nominations.

The panel would provide nonbinding recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on citations ranging from the Silver Star to the Medal of Honor, said Hunter, a Republican congressman from California.

Hunter has expressed concern that so few Medals of Honor have been awarded for the war on terrorism, and all have been awarded posthumously.

“We haven’t given one to a living person yet, so does that mean not a single living soldier, sailor, airman or Marine has committed an act of valor and something so courageous that he’s earned the Medal of Honor?” he said.

Hunter said the Pentagon claims there is less traditional combat these days because warfare has become so high tech, but he doesn’t buy it.

“I’ve got guys telling me stories about killing terrorists with their helmets, knifing them, getting in fistfights with them when they’re out of ammunition,” he said. “That sounds like old-time warfare to me. That’s not ever going to change.”

To be awarded the Medal of Honor, a servicemember must risk their life for a gallant action that goes above and beyond the call of duty. There must be no doubt that the act meets the criteria. Nominations make their way up to the defense secretary and the president for final approval.

Under Duncan’s plan, the panelists would be able to lend their unique expertise to the process.

“They might see something for a Silver Star and say, ‘Wait a minute, this guy did more than I did in Korea. Why is it only a Silver Star?’” Hunter said.

Hunter plans to petition his colleagues in the House and Senate to include the panel in the final version of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

Marine veteran Joseph Kinney has written about the lack of Medals of Honor for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but he has reservations about Hunter’s idea.

For one, there are not that many living Medal of Honor recipients, Kinney said.

“Many of the ones that are alive are very aged and not exactly cogent,” he said.

But Hunter didn’t see a problem, noting that no one has questioned the cognitive abilities of elderly lawmakers such as Sens. John McCain, 73, and Carl Levin, 75.

Still, Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton said recipients should stay out of the decision-making process.

The best people to decide whether a servicemember should be awarded the Medal of Honor are the Joint Chiefs and the troops on the ground, Thornton said.

“This should not be our decision. We weren’t there, we weren’t part of their group. ... I think the people that were actually there on the operation should be the ones giving the advice,” he said.

He also said he is not interested in serving on a panel of Medal of Honor recipients.

“I don’t think I deserve mine, and why I got mine, I’ll never know,” Thornton said. “I was doing my job as I was trained to do.”


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