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Air force times

Airmen bemoan number of ‘feel-good’ medals

By Scott Fontaine - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 7, 2011 5:35:26 EST

Maj. Donald Bugg has something he wants to get off his chest: the Air Force Training Ribbon.

He’d like to ditch the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, too.

And Bugg is far from alone.

Dozens of you are venting online about what you consider an award-happy Air Force, and thousands more are reading the sometimes-biting remarks on airforcetimes.com. One reader with ribbon rage went so far as to suggest an airman looks like “a Third World general.”

Bugg, an assistant staff judge advocate, is a bit more diplomatic but still doesn’t sugarcoat his contempt for what he sees as frivolous ribbons, such as the one for training.

“This ribbon is there to tell the world that I didn’t fail my initial training into the Air Force,” wrote Bugg, who is assigned to RAF Mildenhall, England. “Now, the fact that I’m wearing an Air Force uniform already tells you that, but in an effort to make everyone feel special, we give out ribbons to make sure every single airman breathing looks like he’s been decorated. It’s useless. Dump it.”

You’re eligible for 86 ribbons — 62 for joint and Air Force operations, the rest from sister services or foreign governments. The Navy awards 77, the Marine Corps 69 and the Army 65.

The Air Force obviously doesn’t still award some, such as the Philippine Independence Ribbon and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. And not all airmen are eligible for each award: Officers, for example, can’t qualify for the NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon.

Last year, the Air Force gave out about 190,000 awards and ribbons, and about 71,000 decorations, according to Lt. Col. Belinda Petersen, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Personnel Center.

Col. John Greene has more than 20 ribbons.

Five — the NATO Medal, the Expeditionary Service Ribbon, the Overseas Short-Tour Ribbon, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Meritorious Unit Award — came from an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan that started in 2006.

“While I appreciate the awards and recognition, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal alone would have been sufficient — and indeed more appropriate — for my service in Afghanistan,” wrote Greene, inspector general of the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

Staff Sgt. Jason Hanisko, a military working dog kennel master deployed to Iraq, sees some young airmen with huge ribbon racks and sees a stark contrast to what soldiers and Marines have on their chests.

“My grandfather would roll over in his grave,” Hanisko said, “if he was alive to see what validates some of these medals in today’s military.”
Conditional love

Capt. Derrick Saraceni speaks for those of you who believe ribbons are important.

Ribbons tell a story, said Saraceni, of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and they also act as a reward for airmen excelling at their jobs.

“While at the time it may not matter to most, when your service is up and you display them, years later it does mean something,” wrote Saraceni, chief of training and standardizations/evaluations for the 613th Air and Space Operations Center. “A few years back, I made a shadow box for a friend’s father who was in WWII. He had 15 medals, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Air Medal. For years, they were never displayed. When they were presented to him as a surprise, he broke out in tears.”

Staff Sgt. Stephen Weaver is a firefighter at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. His career field has a reputation of making its members earn their medals, Weaver said, so “ribbons do matter and they should be presented proudly.”

“In the fire department, you don’t get medals all the time, even if you save someone’s life on the side of the road,” wrote Weaver. “You are just doing your job. Someone else comes along and does the same thing, and they will get an Airman’s Medal. So people in the fire department value their medals because they mean something to them and they are not just for testing.”

Staff Sgt. Brian Jares sees merit in awarding ribbons but readily acknowledges the system needs tweaking.

“Do ribbons matter? Yes. Are they mishandled? Yes,” wrote Jares, a communications/navigation radio specialist at Naval Station Rota, Spain. “When done correctly and evenly, ribbons can boost morale and show hard work and dedication. The awards and decoration area can use some changes. It seems if you wear wings on your uniform, then you are entitled to more ribbons and earn a better chance at earning others.”

Tech. Sgt. Andre Figueroa takes a purely pragmatic approach to ribbons.

“Honestly, the only ones I care about are the ones that count toward my promotion,” wrote Figueroa, deployed to Iraq with a special operations unit.

Of the dozens of ribbons that the Air Force awards, only personal decorations help advance your career, according to Petersen, the AFPC spokeswoman.

Examples of personal decorations that Petersen cited include the Air Force Cross, awarded for “extraordinary heroism”; distinguished service medals such as the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Star; medals for heroism, such as the Airman’s Medal, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal; the Air Force Commendation Medal; and achievement medals, such as the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Enough already

After 10 years in the Air Force, Staff Sgt. Scott Mendoza has amassed 20 ribbons and several devices.

Many, though, don’t mean a great deal to him, he said.

“All the longevity, long tours/short tours and miscellaneous ones interest nobody and don’t have a significant impact anyway,” wrote Mendoza, who is assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. “The Air Force has a ribbon for anything, and it is silly compared to the other branches. Keep the ones that mean something or show a significant value. The rest, can it!”

Hanisko, the dog kennel master, agrees with Mendoza. He singled out the Good Conduct Medal, the short-term and long-term Overseas Ribbon and the NCO Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon as “medals that show accomplishment but in my eyes do not warrant the wear of a ribbon.”

Sometimes, Hanisko said he doesn’t even realize he has been awarded a ribbon until he checks his virtual Military Personnel Flight.

“If these ribbons warrant the wear of a ribbon for the remainder of your careers, then you would think someone would present you with something stating you received them,” he said.

Robert Baczek, a retired master sergeant, doesn’t have nice things to say about the NCO PME Graduate Ribbon, either. Or the Air Force Training Ribbon, for that matter.

“If you’re in a blue suit, everyone knows you completed boot camp,” wrote Baczek. “The same [goes] for mandatory PME. If you have to attend, then you don’t need a ribbon.”

Along with the training ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal really stick in Bugg’s craw.

The National Defense Service Medal is what Bugg, the JAG, calls “rock-solid proof that I was in the military and breathing on or after September 11, 2001.”

Ditto the Global War on Terrorism Medal, which Bugg received for duties he performed at his home station in support of his deployed unit.

“But then someone decided, once again, that everyone had to feel special, that everyone was serving in support of those operations,” he wrote. “So everyone got it, and the criteria for this decoration are not meaningfully distinguishable from those for the National Defense Service Medal. That’s two medals for the same thing.”

And Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Bateman is peeved about the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, which recognizes airmen for something he said he thinks they should do on their own.

“I expect my people to volunteer and do it for the right reason and not to receive a medal,” wrote Bateman, assigned to the Pentagon. “Additionally, there are other formal avenues to recognize volunteers. And why is it a medal versus a ribbon?”

Bugg said he has a way to help the Air Force thin its ribbon ranks: stop making airmen wear all of their decorations and let them wear only the ones they want — or none at all.

“You’ll quickly see which ribbons people actually care about,” he said.
To each his own

The Secretary of the Air Force is the ribbon czar, signing off on which ones to add and which ones to take away.

The newest ribbons — the Air Force Combat Action Medal and the NATO Meritorious Service Medal — are just shy of four years old, added in March 2007. The last one discontinued was the enlisted-only Good Conduct Medal, in February 2006.

Its decision to ditch the Good Conduct Medal taught the Air Force what a messy business medals can be.

From airman basic to chief master sergeant, enlisted airmen let it be known how unhappy they were that the service no longer saw fit to recognize exemplary behavior. Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley even made the return of the medal a priority when he took the top enlisted job in June 2006.

The service reinstated the medal in February 2009 and awarded about 130,000 medals retroactively.

“We’re at war, and our airmen have tremendous stress out there and are doing an incredible job,” McKinley said when the Air Force reinstated the medal. “Doing this was seen as taking something away from our airmen. And what was the Air Force’s gain for that? Did we improve Air Force capability by taking away the Good Conduct Medal? My answer is no. What we did is anger a lot of people.”

The Good Conduct Medal, though, is the exception rather than the rule for many today.

By awarding too many ribbons, most readers contend, the Air Force misses the point of awarding honors.

Staff Sgt. Dennis Kinsman of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., describes nearly all ribbons as “needless attaboys.”

“What it all boils down to for me is this: If everyone has it, what value is there in having one?” wrote Kinsman, a network technician. “It’s like a penny. Sure, it has value. But what do you care if you lose it? Give me a medal when I’ve done something really outstanding.

“This way, when people look at the one or two medals on your chest, they’ll actually be able to notice you have something, rather than a few outstanding achievements being lost in a sea of mediocrity.”



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They definitely have a lot of Medals & Ribbons. One of the US Air Force Officers that worked with me in Afghanistan received a total of 6 Medals/Ribbons for his 6 month tour. A bit excessive I think.


While at Fleet Week NYC in 08, I was asking questions of a young Marine on what his ribbons were for.  He had two of the same on his collection, both for qualifying with his rifle on the range.  I laughed at that and told him how we just make an entry on file. 

Thank goodness we are more sensible in our awards,  while pretty, the salad an American or Russian tote around is not a system I would like to see adopted.  Perhaps the only thing the US does that I wish we had is the speed of delivery obtain for some of their important medals.  Impact awards I believe is what they term it.


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Please, I am not passing judgment on the US system.

The other day I saw a very young looking female, USAF  T Sgt at the Warrior & Family Support Center, in Fort Sam. She had at least six rows. Could not stare to count due to the ribbon spread location.

Then there was a grizzled fellow we were introduced to by his friend, a Canadian from BC, serving in the US Army. This fellow was probably Delta, but wore no badges on his BDU. His friend was bugging him about that.

Saw a bunch of ROTC and Junior ROTC. Lots of fruit salad. Don't know what for, and don't ask.

I do like seeing the awarding of say the Purple Heart, or any event from medals  to promotion, to retirement.

It is a ceremony, "Attention To Orders", the Secretary of the Army .....

Pictures in the newspaper, and/or on TV.  San Antonio,TX is the seventh largest city in the USA with a population of 1.3 million. Nicknamed the Military City may have something to do with it.


jollyjacktar said:
He had two of the same on his collection, both for qualifying with his rifle on the range.  I laughed at that and told him how we just make an entry on file. 

On Army DEUs we wear Crossed Rifles or Crossed Rifles + Crown(Marksman) on our sleeve.


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You could wear multiple marksmanship badges on our DEU's:

Queen's Medal for Championship Shot (Medal)
Marksmanship Championship Badge (Brass/Silver Rifle worn below the medal(s)/ribbon(s))
Annual Marksmanship Badge (Crossed Rifle with or without Crown) - Sgt & Below

And yes, there are a couple of people in the CF with all three!!