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Defense Secretary Hagel Launches High-Level Review of Military Medals Process

March 31, 2014
Sandra Jontz
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  • The Bronze Star Medal is give for either combat heroism or meritorious service. The bronze "V," a combat distinguishing device, identifies the award resulting from acts of combat heroism or valor, separating it from meritorious achievement awards.
  • Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, USN, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on March 20, 2014, saying Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military decorations and award program.

The practice of awarding bronze stars to mid-level officers who never set foot outside the wire might see a demise similar to that of the controversial Distinguished Warfare Medal of a year ago, if a new department directive bears fruit. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week directed each of the service leaders and combatant commanders to conduct a high-level, comprehensive review of military decorations and the awards program.

As the military pulls out of Afghanistan winds down its participation in the longest war in the nation’s history, Hagel ordered a review that primarily will focus on how leaders bestow combat and valor awards to service members. This will address issues such as whether the same criteria are applied to Marines as to soldiers, or for example a sailor working on an Air Force-led mission.

There are some awards that “are joint … in the scope of the duties that … they reward,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, USN, said during a Pentagon press briefing. “I think [Hagel] recognizes that we’ve been more joint now than ever before, and you don’t have to look any farther than what we accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how joint the services have become, and I think it’s a fair question to ask: do we need to look at the kinds of awards that we give, particularly for combat valor, in a more joint nature than perhaps some of them are?”

Hagel is directing the services to determine if the program “adequately recognizes all levels of combat valor, and if award processes and authorities are properly aligned with the joint nature of warfare,” reads a portion of his one-page memo. “As we scale back combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of this year, it is imperative that we use the lessons learned from 13 years of combat experience to improve the Department of Defense Decorations and Awards Program,” Hagel writes.

“I think he would like to get a better sense of what discrepancies there may be between the services,” Kirby said. “And do those discrepancies need to be closed?”

The one-year review begins in June.

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