The awards system is broken.
The Marines have a reputation for being relatively stingy on awards, and I think this is still relatively true.
I’ve been told by field grade officers who I confide in that these practices are all part of the system. It’s how the game is played. It’s all politics. Sure, it’s dirty, but everybody does it.
What these field grades are saying may be true, but it’s surely not right.
Here are some what-ifs. On my most recent deployment I had the distinct pleasure of writing an award for one of the most outstanding NCOs in the Marine Corps: Sergeant K. This Marine was stellar in every sense. He demanded and received respect from peers, subordinates, and superiors. His technical MOS skills were better than most Gunnery Sergeants I know of in the same MOS. He displayed outstanding physical fitness and moral rectitude. Superior in just about every catagory. I rated him first out of 17 Sergeants I have reported on. He was a Marine who made it a pleasure to write fitreps and awards. I wrote him up for a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (or NAM, in the service parlance).
During the same deployment and some weeks later I found out that:
- 90% of the Quality Assurance Section of the Maintenance Department had been submitted for the NAMs.
- Several Lance Corporals were receiving Certificates of Commendation for going to the Base PX in Iraq to pick up submarine sandwiches and pizza for the superbowl party. (note that these Marines were doing NOTHING beyond their normal duties to bring success in combat. Consequently, these Marines are being awarded for doing NOTHING).
Working in an awards system like this, either I’m the bad guy by not writing my Marines up for awards that their peers under different officers are being recommended for. Or I can let the standards degrade and write awards for all of the Marines in my detachment, like the Quality Assurance Marines. There are so many awards that Marines feel entitled to them.
Awards are taking away from the title of Marine. Too often we judge Marines and servicemembers for the ribbons and medals on their chest. We need to get back to the existential value of being a Marine, and get away from the meaningless regalia of nylon ribbons for PowerPoint slide construction.
One Major Peter F. Owen wrote an article called The Institutionalization of Festoonery in the same April, 2000 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette. (The good Major is probably out of the Marines or significantly promoted by now.) In the article the author admits that the bulk of the awards available to Marines are probably here to stay (some awards, for example, are awarded in the name of the President of the United States or the Secretary of the Navy, and action by Headquarters Marine Corps will not get rid of these awards). The author’s suggests instead that Marines only wear certain awards that enhance the value of the uniform (Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Air Medals, etc.), and exclude trite awards such as National Defense Service Medals, Meritorious Service Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, to name a few. Maj Owen would allow Marines to continue to wear unit awards and campaign medals, as these undoubtedly add to the Marine Corps heritage. Maj Owen’s recommendation’s are worthy.
Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes in the same issue of The Marine Corps Gazette advocates removal of all non-combat awards. There is precident for this, when the Medal of Honor was subject to recall in the early 1900s due to awarding criteria becoming too liberal.
What can you do? The current uniform regulations allow for Marines to not wear any medals or ribbons on some service uniforms, or allow for Marines to wear only personal awards and unit awards. Go ahead and wear that lonely NAM and Combat Action Ribbon and omit your National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (two entirely redundant awards, as they are awarded for being on active duty in the period since September 11th). Forego the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. When your fellow Marines ask you why you’re not wearing all of your awards, tell them the truth.
You can also think about the good of the Marine Corps when you are writing awards. I have explained to Marines who have approached me on why I’m stingy with awards to research the battle of Tarawa (Utmost Savagry, by Alexander is a good volume). Barely 5% of all Marines involved in that bloody fight were recognized by an award of any type, including Letters of Commendation by the Commanding General (which are paper awards with no companion medal). Be stingy about awards, and tell your Marines that you’re upholding the heritage of the Marine Corps by doing so. And tell them about how important an honor it is to just be a Marine. It is an honor indeed.
Let your reputation speak for you rather than the nylon on your chest. And let the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (or whatever your service emblem), speak to your professionalism.
An anonymous Marine officer apparently wrote a letter to a relative that was forwarded until it reached some senior pentagon types and Time Magazine. It’s worth a read, and captures some of the crud and the joy that goes with combat and being in a Band of Brothers. A copy of the email is here.
I relate to what he writes.
The erudite Martin van Crevald has some analysis on the near-civil war in France. He seems to think that for the French (whether secular or Christian) to win, they need to get serious about getting serious (i.e. no half measures.)
He also says that immigration needs to be brought under control, and probably even reversed (by deportation of some populations.)
He is correct.
Dymphna extrapolates on the trend of violence, asking when IEDs will make their appearance in Paris. My guess is when the police get a bit tougher in their tactics we will see the slow burning of Moslem violence turn to an inferno.
It didn’t take that to Start the Fire (hat tip: Billy Joel) last time France was burning. Remember the riots last year, all because the government was asking my generation living there to tolerate a couple years without a guaranteed job?
I still think France has some time to turn around. With EU Constitution being given a mortal blow a year or two ago, there is some creedance to the theory that the Frenchman on the street has had enough with the Brussels paperpushers. Maybe they’ll wrest control of their borders back from the European Superstate within a generation for just enough time to assimilate their Moslems. I’m not optimistic on this. I just think it’s possible.
Looks like the Army is finally getting it’s Land Warrior suite to combat, with 4/9 Infantry (the “Manchus.”). We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure the field grades are going to love it.
One interesting thing comes up near the end of the piece:
“The concerns were so great that the original vision — giving every soldier a full set of high-tech gear — has been scrapped. For now, only Manchu team leaders will get the entire Land Warrior ensemble, Col. Hansen tells Defense Tech. Regular riflemen will be equipped with GPS beacons, to let their sergeants and lieutennants know where they are.”
This is probably wrong. It’s so their captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, operations officers, chiefs of staff, intelligence officers, commanding generals, and deputy commanding generals know where they are.
I used to deal in tactical aviation C2 systems, and believe me, the more that the battle captains see, the more they are in the weeds controlling things that they probably don’t need to be controlling.
Most successful armed forces delegate C2 to the lowest level possible. This has been the trend since at least the Franco-Prussian War with the advent of open-order tactics. The armies that bled themselves white in WWI were the ones insisting on “regimental column, battalion on line” formations, while the Germans actually learned to press their C2 to small detachments. Ernst Juenger, a WWI storm troop officer (wounded 14 times, several decorations for gallantry), said in his WWI memoir “The Storm of Steel,” that “all success in battle depends on individual initiative.” I’m inclined to agree.
Giving these systems to individual soldiers will stifle initiative precisely because:
1) higher will always be up their a$$ telling them what to do… (“hey you…Pvt Bonottz…move to the right 10 meters. There’s a bad pixel on my Blue Force Tracker and I can’t see you when you stand there!”).
2) The psychological impact of having the all-seeing eye of higher on the individual soldier will be just as bad.
In short…armies don’t win because of high-tech gear, and they don’t win because generals see everything. They win because individual soldiers, squads, platoons, and companies, with the help of combined arms, locate, close with, and destroy the enemy.
That’s not to say this Land Warrior system isn’t going to be any good. It just might be. But when we design systems, we need to take into account the kind of C2 system we want our armies to have. Giving every soldier, or every 4th or 5th soldier, a C2 suite is probably going to make him worry a whole lot more of what the OpsO is thinking rather than destroying the enemy and staying focused on the tasks ahead.