The Glut of Garbage Medals; When Too Many Actually IS Too Many

The joke floating around the military is that the new physical fitness test will consist of three laps around Mark Milley’s fat ass.

The argument in favor of Weight Watchers MREs.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a new mental acuity test: Try to figure out the order of precedence of Milley’s 29 (count ’em… 29) personal medals. By the way, not a single one has been for personal heroic conduct. Not one.

That leads me to the larger point that the US military simply has way too many awards and medals. And I mean WAY too many.

And by “Too many,” I mean that instead of having the look and bearing of a professional military man, more than a few are looking rather clownish.

Sadly, every branch of the armed forces has not only jumped on the “Let’s give everyone a medal!” bandwagon, it’s now “Let’s give everyone a whole lot of medals!” bandwagon.

Case in point; when I joined back in 1977, the overwhelming majority of American military personnel had already left Vietnam four years earlier (1973). Only a detachment of Marine Embassy Guards and a handful of military advisors remained in-country.

In other words, no more Vietnam Campaign Medals were issued. Then just two years later (1975) when the Republic of Vietnam fell to the godless communists, the National Defense Service Medal (AKA: “Thanks for Joining During Time of War Medal“) finally stopped being issued to every Tom, Dick and Harry who joined.

Then-Platoon Sergeant John Basilone and the seven decorations he earned during his lifetime: Medal of Honor, Presidential Unit Citation w/ one star, American Defense Service Medal w/ one star, Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal w/ two stars.

Side note – I still don’t know why someone joining the Vermont National Guard from ’73-’75 as a clerk-typist would receive the NDSM. Maybe it just took two-years for the generals and admirals to pull their heads out of their asses and figure out we weren’t at war anymore.

Anyhow, here are the three categories of awards and decorations;

  • Personal awards – Examples: Medal of Honor, Navy Commendation Medal, etc.
  • Unit awards – Examples: Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation, etc.
  • Service awards – Examples: WWII Victory Medal, Southwest Asia Service medal, etc.

Back to the point at hand, right around the mid-late 1970s, a rather lot of young up and-coming Marines had just a lonely Good Conduct ribbon on their chest.

Speaking only for myself, I was one of those young Marines. The overall attitude of those of us sharing the same situation at the point in time was simple, we didn’t care.

When a war broke out, we would go forth and do great things. We certainly would rate certain service (campaign) awards; if our particular units were shit-hot, then we may rate a couple of unit awards; and if any of us did anything worthy anyone hoisting their beers in our honor, then we’d rate whatever particular personal awards.

But the heavies in DC wanted none of those attitudes. Oh, no. It was time to dream-up a whole boatload of new bullshit medals.

A whopping 26 separate awards and decorations, never been in a combat zone.

So, the first thing they dreamt up was the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. If you were assigned to a deployable unit while overseas, you got this stupid thing. Not that one had to actually deploy… just so long as you were overseas assigned to a deployable unit. Think: “Thanks for Going Overseas Ribbon.”

From there, things went downhill… and fast.

In the ’70s, the military thought up something called the Defense Superior Service Medal. Please know that this beast is almost exclusively awarded to only generals and admirals. Think: “Flag officer Good Conduct Medal.”

Starting in the late ’80s, the Army and the Air Force were throwing around Bronze Stars (without Combat V) faster than slinging beads at chicks showing their boobs at Mardi Gras.

It wasn’t long before the Navy got onboard (no pun intended), and sadly, the Marine Corps was soon to follow. Think: “Staff officer Good Conduct Medal.”

Again, the 1970s gave us the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. Specifically, for those on Joint Duty AND only for non-combat outstanding achievement or meritorious service. Think: “Staff officer Good Conduct Medal, second award.”

Now we come to the Meritorious Service Medal. Non-egalitarian in nature, this was designed only for senior officers (who haven’t pinned on a star yet) or for the very senior enlisted. Think: “Battalion Commander and/or Battalion Sgt. Maj. Good Conduct Medal.”

The 1970s also gave us the Humanitarian Service Medal, popularly known as the  Global Meals on Wheels Medal.

Speaking of worthless medals… the Order of Maternal Glory, First Class – having nine children for Mother Russia. At least someone’s getting legitimately screwed.

Now we come to the Combat Action Ribbon. Due to the Army issuing the Combat Infantry Badge for decades worth during the 20th Century, the Marine Corps nor the Navy ever issued the “I’ve Been Shot At” award. But the Department of the Navy remedied that in 1969 with the CAR.

For decades, non-gunslinger support Marines (like me, AKA: “REMFs”) would pray for the intercession of St. Michael that we may have the opportunity to get some trigger time like our Combat Arms brethren.

When first issued, the CAR was ONLY meant for those engaged in real life, no shit combat. But of course, DC paper-pushers had to screw things up. During the early ’90s, the US Navy redefined the word “Combat.”

Literally dozens upon dozens of US Navy warships who “operated north of 28.30N.and west of 49.303 from 17 Jan 91 to 28 Feb, 1991”, entire crews were awarded the Combat Action Ribbon.

Of course, the Marine Corps had to follow suite. On Jan. 17, 2013, “Combat” was redefined as being anywhere near in IED going off. Enemy in the immediate area optional.

But not until the 1990s did things really start going off the rails. Here’s just a taste of the Department of Defense’s Hall of Shame;

The Armed Forces Service Medal – the anti-Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. Explicitly for non-combat (peacetime) combat training exercises overseas.

Above and beyond the call of ducty.

Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal – This used to be called Little League Coach of the Year.

Global War on Terrorism Service Medal – The exact same thing as the National Defense Service Medal, but with brighter colors.

Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal – the exact same thing as the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (which is really the exact same thing as the National Defense Service Medal) except it was done overseas. Hey, isn’t that what the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon is all about?

Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal – Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Syrian Edition. Also known as the Sea Service Global War on Something ‘Er Other Medal.

The Korea Defense Service Medal – Not to be confused with the Korean Service Medal (of Korean War fame). This is for being stationed in Korea AFTER the Korean War ended. Also awarded to those who ever woke up hungover in a Korean whorehouse, reeking of kimchee and cheap makgeolli.

The Air and Space Campaign Medal – Pretty much like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, only less believable.

Chairman of the Jolly St. Nicks of Staff.

The Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal – Pretty much another Air Force Good Conduct Medal. Interestingly enough, nuclear-armed Sewer Pipe Sailors aren’t eligible for this pretend medal.

The Remote Combat Effects Campaign Medal – Lovingly known as “The Nintendo Medal.” Seriously, if you’re nerding-out whilst piloting a loitering UAV over Kabul while you happen to be deep in the bunker of some Air Force base under the Nevada Desert, this is the controller paddle award you were born for.

NOTE, I’ve been trying to get the advertiser to cite only G-rated ads. From my editor software, all I see are tame ads, but some are telling me that rather suggestive ads are seen on their computer or phone. If you are seeing sexually suggestive ads, please let me know. Thanks.

2 thoughts on “The Glut of Garbage Medals; When Too Many Actually IS Too Many”

  1. We called the NSDM the “Gee-dunk” medal, because in the early 90s everyone coming out of boot camp had one.

  2. I believe the correct term for those decorations is “cocktail medals.” How that guy even earned one star is beyond me.
    I did earn the Firewatch and Vietnam Campaign Medals.
    Naval Support Activity, Da Nang 1965-67.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *