So, some folks are pretty upset to learn that an Air Force chaplain was awarded the Bronze Star Medal (BSM) for writing a power point presentation in the wake of a Koran burning incident in Afghanistan.
After the accidental burning last year of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan sparked deadly rioting, an Air National Guard chaplain from Springfield stepped in and potentially saved countless American lives.
For his effort, Lt. Col. Jon Trainer received the prestigious Bronze Star — a medal given for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with operations against an armed enemy.
And he did it with a PowerPoint presentation. . . .
Within 48 hours, Trainer developed a PowerPoint presentation on the proper handling and disposal of Islamic religious material that was seen by every American — military and civilian alike — in Afghanistan. The presentation then was distributed to the U.S. for use in all pre-deployment training.
Well, that would certainly seem to be rather insulting to the large numbers of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines (and the odd Coastie) who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other theaters in the Global War on Terror, and not received a Bronze Star.
But here’s the thing…
First, LTC Trainer is in no way the bad guy here. Lot’s of people saw the article at NRO and are ready to let their outrage meters max out. He actually felt the need to step into the comment section:
Hey folks. Lt Col Trainer here. I am an almost daily frequenter to “The Corner.” Imagine my surprise when a friend pointed out I was actually on the corner!
This is an end of tour award. Standard fair for the rank, position, and responsibility I held during this tour–Training Chaplain for all the of the chaplains in Afghanistan and Garrison Chaplain at New Kabul Compound in Kabul. Events of serious consequence occurred while in theater; the article highlights those. The way the original article is written implies the BSM was given for writing a PPT presentation. This does not represent the facts nor the bullet points in the BSM write-up.
I am quite disappointed that NRO didn’t bother to look into this situation a bit deeper before posting an article that seems to undermine my six month deployment in service of our great nation and the troops I am proud to serve.
He is quite correct. Such an award to a field grade officer at the conclusion of a tour overseas (known as an EoT or End of Tour award) is typical, and would normally only be remarkable by its absence. That is, if LTC Trainer had not received an award, people would wonder how he screwed up.
And this kerfuffle shows up one of the great problems with the Bronze Star Medal.
Created in 1944, it was an conceived as roughly analogous to the Air Medal for meritorious service or valor, less than that worthy of the Silver Star, but still worthy of recognition. The requirements were:
- (a) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
- (b) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
- (c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
But there’s the rub. It is awarded either for meritorious service, or for valor. Those Bronze Stars awarded for valor are marked with a metallic “V” device. But it is entirely possible to earn the BSM without ever hearing a shot fired in anger, so long as you are deployed within a theater of operations. Worse yet, those medals that would normally recognize meritorious service, such as the Meritorious Service Medal, may not be awarded for service in a combat theater.
As a rule of thumb, when I see a Bronze Star without a “V” device, I automatically assume it is in the nature of an “I was there” award. Some people do earn them for one especially meritorious achievement during a tour, but most are simply EoTs. But a BSM with the “V” device is an entirely different matter. Theoretically, all valorous awards of the BSM are roughly the same. I, and many others, tend to suspect that in reality, the award of a BSM(V) is a little easier for a senior NCO or officer than it is for a junior enlisted troop. Further, there is a very strong feeling that the likelihood of a BSM award varies greatly between the services. The Marines especially, but also the Navy, are notoriously stingy with them, while the Army and especially the Air Force are seen as generous with them.
Personally, I favor a fairly generous policy for awards for valor. And indeed, I’ve no real problem with a fairly generous policy for awards in general. Heck, for a guy with a grand total of four days of combat time, I’ve got a fruit salad that makes me look like I defeated the Republican Guard singlehandedly armed only with a P-38 can opener. I never went hunting for awards, but I never turned one down, either. So I’d be a bit hypocritical if I started bitching about it now.
But so long as the Bronze Star remains an award both for doing your job well, and as an award for great personal valor, it will be especially controversial. To a lesser extent so will the services Commendation medals. The Department of Defense should take this opportunity to overhaul its awards program, and make the BSM strictly an award for valor. Lifting the restriction of awarding “peacetime” medals while deployed to a combat zone will still give the services ample opportunity to recognize merit, and restore some of the prestige to its awards.