Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Awards and Decorations

The Sarge's Medals and Badges* (Source)
So, I noticed a bit of commotion in Juvat's post yesterday regarding the proliferation of awards, decorations, ribbons, and other gewgaws which soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen might be awarded to decorate their uniforms. Some folks say we have too many, I lean towards that point of view but I also subscribe to the following...
A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon. Attributed to the Emperor Napoléon.
There is also this...
"Men can, of course, be stirred into life by being dressed up in uniforms and made to blare out chants of war. It must be confessed that this is one way for men to break bread with comrades and to find what they are seeking, which is a sense of something universal, of self-fulfillment. But of this bread men die." Antoine De Saint Exupéry
A dress uniform should look good, it should be something the wearer is proud to don when going out in public. What better way to adorn that uniform (especially when it is drab and ordinary looking, like Air Force uniforms these days, don't get me started) with a bit of colored ribbon and a shiny badge (or three) above the pocket?

Your average patriotic civilian should take a certain amount of pride in seeing the proud warriors of our nation clad in their military finery. Those ribbons upon the chest serve two purposes out there in civvy street: one, to make the wearer feel good about him or herself, and two, to impress the civilian folk.

Of course, they serve another purpose. When two military people meet, and they are in service dress or even mess dress, they will immediately scan each other's awards, decorations, and badges. In the aviation services, pilot wings are noticed first and foremost. The ability to operate a flying machine is big medicine to some folks.

Other badges of note would be the SEAL trident (or Budweiser), the Fleet Marine Force Corpsman badge, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the ever popular jump wings. The latter being awarded to those who voluntarily jump out of perfectly good aircraft.

Now the point of this is to determine where the other fellow (or gal) has been and what they did when they were there. So to speak.

Combat decorations always garner respect. Those who know what to look for can easily distinguish real "been there, done that" decorations from the "look what I got for showing up" awards. When I enlisted, the "everybody gets a ribbon" mantra had not kicked in yet.

Eventually it did though and we started seeing things like the Air Force Training Ribbon. Which essentially means "Yay! You managed to graduate from Basic Training or Officer Training School and now get to wear the uniform." With that one measly ribbon. Unless you managed to join up when there was a war on, an approved sort of war (or conflict if you will) which then entitles one to the National Defense Medal.  So there ya go, in for less than a year and you've already got two ribbons!

Of course, you could be an Honor Graduate of Basic Training (yup, another ribbon) maybe even a "marksman" (you were able to punch a certain number of holes in a paper target) which entitles you to another ribbon. Wow, less than a year in uniform and you've got four ribbons!
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower

That picture of Ike was taken around 1945, after the end of World War II. The war in which he commanded the entire Allied army on the Western Front. In the picture Ike is wearing the five stars of a General of the Army and had been in the United States Army since 1915.

And he's wearing three, count them, three ribbons. Of course, he had far more than that he could wear. He just chose not to. Other generals back then liked their bling. Like this fellow...
General George S. Patton, Jr.

General Patton liked to wear his awards.

Some folks did (and do) some folks don't.

When I was in I didn't normally wear my badges and ribbons on my everyday uniform. Well, with one exception that is. I always wore this one...
Senior Aircraft/Munitions Maintenance Badge

That badge told my fellow office wienies, er co-workers, that I had, once upon a time, dragged a toolbox out of a Step Van and worked (in all sorts of weather) on aircraft. Things which flew and dropped ordnance on the enemies of freedom everywhere.

That was one badge I really enjoyed having. Didn't "need" it, but it was "nice to have." Made me feel that I used to be "somebody."


Here's my full "fruit salad" display...


From top to bottom, left to right, they are:
  • Master Communications and Information Badge
  • Senior Aircraft/Munitions Maintenance Badge
  • Defense Meritorious Service Medal
  • Air Force Commendation Medal, Two Awards
  • Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, Two Awards
  • Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Six Awards
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Korea Defense Service Medal
  • Air Force Overseas Service Ribbon - Short Tour, Four Awards
  • Air Force Overseas Service Ribbon - Long Tour, Three Awards
  • Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon. Four Awards
  • Air Force Professional Military Education Ribbon, Two Awards
  • Air Force Training Ribbon aka "Battle of Lackland Award"
Nope, not a hero or anything, just a slightly above average joe who did his duty to the best of his ability. With no regrets whatsoever. (Okay, yeah I'm still kinda pissed about missing "Marksmen" with the M-16 by one round. One frigging round. But hey, the rules are the rules. And those paper targets were just as dead...)

So yes, there probably are too many awards, but those who know can separate the wheat from the chaff. For instance, someone might be wearing one small ribbon, and nothing else with it, and command instant respect from those "who know." This one...

That's the ribbon for the Medal of Honor, our Nation's highest award for valor in combat. Most of those who have been awarded this medal, had it awarded posthumously. That is, the action which merited the award also cost them their life.

Someone wearing the Medal of Honor is entitled to a salute from all other military personnel, regardless of rank. And believe me, they earned it.

*Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!


  1. A most excellent assessment indeed. And people who earn those awards should wear them with pride, at least until the Equitable Treatment Fairy starts handing them out to everyone so that underachievers don't feel left out.

    1. The Equitable Treatment Fairy (or ETF if you prefer)! Love it! Sounds like something Comrade Bernie would institute.

  2. I had a grand total of three -the infamous GCM, NDM and Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon. None of which gave me even $1 more in pay, nor did they count for anything in promotion.

    No MMS Badge when I was in, though many of us had the small brass "flaming piss pot", which I still have among my mementos.

    1. Ah yes, the famous "flaming piss pot," an ancient symbol indeed! Used as well as the insignia of the grenadier, back in the day, when grenadiers actually handled (and threw) grenades. Which looked very much like your "flaming piss pot."

      Pretty cool!

  3. Well said and troops should wear their ribbons and medals that they are
    comfortable wearing. The only time I would wear ribbons was when I had to
    wear my dress blues. The only ribbons I would wear were my Vietnam Service
    ribbon, Vietnam Campaign ribbon and my Marksmanship ribbon as those were
    the ribbons that I felt I had personally done something to earn. But as
    you probably remember I was always a bit on the crazy side!! ;)

  4. The only ribbon anybody ever got in the far wayback of my service time was the GCM.
    That took at least three years.
    There were a few guys from the DERs at Pearl who had Operation Deepfreeze medals.
    They were kinda pretty.
    Of course, some of the old salts had awards from the Korean "Conflict."

    1. I think the number of awards has increased due to the "all volunteer" thing. When we had the draft we didn't need to have so many awards. I mean it was a captive audience in some ways.

      If we behaved we got a GCM every four years. Some have argued that we get those for playing by the rules, of course nowadays, with the "one mistake and done" mindset, the GCM may be unnecessary. In the old days one could miss a GCM (or more) and still have a decent 20-year career.

  5. Impressive and well earned I'm sure. I never got past my wolf badge in cub scouts.

    1. Hey fellow Wolf! (That's as far as I got in the BSA as well. Had a disagreement with my scout master over what the landing gear of an FW-190 was supposed to look like. So I figured that was enough for me!)

    2. Given what I know about you and history and airplanes, I'm gonna put my money down on you being right and the scout master being wrong.

  6. For some reason the Nat Defense Service Medal when I was on active was known as the "alive in '65" ribbon (i.e., almost everyone "alive in '65" got one :) ) although it predated that by 12 yrs, so don't know how the saying got started. Anyone ever hear of it?

    1. I had not heard that one, but it makes perfect sense.

  7. I tended to like the top 3 rule in the Navy. You could wear just the top row, or two if it didn't fill out the row. Although aboard ship, either if we had to wear Khakis or I was on my disassociated sea tour (Khakis 24/7), just the wings was standard. No reason to ruin a set of ribbons on a greasy ship. Although I think the seat belt in my car did more damage to them than any ship would have.

    1. The seat belt was an infamous defiler of ribbons.

      In the early years of my career I was told "wear all, or wear none." Later on one could pick and choose, some, all, or none.

  8. When we wore Khakis (1505s) circa 1945-early 70s the AF wisely limited the badge to Pilots wings (or Nav & Bombardier) and/or Para badge. No decoration ribbons.

    1. Man, I loved those 1505s. I had them issued in Basic, four sets as I recall.

      Comfortable and fairly low maintenance, unlike the later blue unis, those blue pants were a lint magnet!

    2. We used to play a game with the gate stasi at 32nd Street. It was verbotten to drive off base in wash khakis so we 'fooled' them by pinning a ribbon bar to our shirt on the way out. It was forbidden to wear any ribbon with wash khaki so the guards figured that we must be wearing doubleknit or certified navy trash uniform avec ribbons.

    3. Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

      I like the cut of your jib Cap'n.

  9. I'm with Tuna, we just wore the top three probably 90% of the time. The only time we got 'all gussied up' was in Blues or Whites... Medals only came out with the Choker whites or Mess dress.

    1. The only time the Air Force wore medals was with Mess dress. Then they were miniature medals. Not sure why we were issued the full size medals, though I do picture myself at a future Fourth of July parade wearing a faded dark blue suit coat with my medals pinned to it. Wearing a beret of course.

      (Why I can picture that I don't know, perhaps I've seen too many pictures of old Russian WWII vets.)

    2. Ici Chacal.


    3. Great film! I thought Sir Edward Fox was superb in that role!

      (And yes, that's how I picture myself, sans crutches I hope!)

  10. My son had/has an impressive "brick". He was discouraged from wearing it as it made the new potatoes uncomfortable per his "leadership".
    When I was in I found comfort and inspiration in the ribbons the senior NCOs wore. Mad me think they just might know what they were doing.

    1. Medals and decorations are worn to inspire the newbies. Current leadership has no sense of history, lousy morals, and weak minds.

      It infuriates me when those sods do that kind of thing!

  11. The only time I ever wore a medal was when it had been pinned on at an award ceremony. Never had to wear Service Dress With (as opposed to Service Dress, with which ribbons were worn). On the beach "working" blues or whites required ribbons. The flipping ribbons were always a pita, but a good way to gauge who and what you were dealing with. Also, chicks seemed to appreciate a healthy rack. Doesn't seem right, does it? MY NAC wings and sea service ribbon/stars were the ones that really meant a lot to me. The awards I cherished most were the Sikorsky Awards, which aren't part of the uniform and don't officially count.

    1. Wings always seem to impress the opposite sex.

      (Heh, healthy rack, I see what ya did there.)

  12. A big day for me when, after 15 years. I got the wreath around the star on my wings. Privileged to wear those for more than 10 years. Probably meant more to me than the combat ribbons. regards, Alemaster

    1. Correct me if I'm wrong Vic (it does happen, more often than I care to admit) but those wings would be the Master Army Aviator wings yes?

      Quite an accomplishment!

    2. Correct, as usual, Jefe; and, thanks! regards, Alemaster

  13. On the Service Dress Blue Jumper and Service Dress White Jumper in the last years and the end of my career I had two rows plus the Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist Wings.
    In order of precedence: Meritorious Unit Commendation/2 Bronze Stars, Navy Good Conduct/4 Bronze Stars, Navy Expiditionary/1 Bronze Star, National Defense Service/1 Bronze Star, Humanitarian Service, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon/3 Bronze Stars. If in Full Dress, the medals were worn on the left breast and the ribbons were worn on the right breast. If I had been on a Pacific Fleet Ship after I enlisted, I may have had the two for Vietnam. I was an Atlantic Fleet Sailor at the beginning of my career. Such is the randomness of orders right out of boot camp.

    1. "...the randomness of orders right out of boot camp" could easily be read as just "the randomness of orders."

      As always, the needs of the service must be met. And those needs are oft many and not always fun.


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