Why So Few Medals of Honor in Iraq?

smith_medal.jpg

A Hero? You Bet.

As noted in the previous post, another casualty of the Iraq war is that fewer medals and fewer medals of distinction for bravery are being awarded because they call attention to the war’s bloody realities.

A veteran blogger who has spent considerable time in Iraq tells me that:

“Company commanders . . . complain that the awards they submit are constantly downgraded as they go up the chain of command.”

Some 300,000-plus Americans have served in Iraq, and there also has been some criticism that the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, had only been awarded twice.

Here are the number of medal winners for major conflicts since the Civil War:

464 — World War II

245 — Vietnam War

131 — Korean War

124 — World War I

110 — Spanish-American War

Perhaps in keeping with the Pentagon’s overall policy, it would appear that there indeed have been a disproportionately low number of Iraq recipients, but having just pounded the military for its suppression policy, the Medal of Honor explanation is too simplistic.

A better explanation is that beyond the invasion in the spring of 2003, two major battles in Fallujah and a small number of other battles, there (thankfully) has been little opportunity for soldiers to be in the kind of extreme situations that Medal of Honor winners have experienced in other wars.

Incidentally, the Iraq Medal of Honor recipients are Army Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith (photo) and Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. Both received the medal postumously.

         

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your analysis of the reasons the MOH has not been widely awarded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nature of the conflicts has a lot to do with it.

    As noted in the previous post, another casualty of the Iraq war is that fewer medals and fewer medals of distinction for bravery are being awarded because they call attention to the war’s bloody realities.

    Sorry, but you are attributing intent and cause without evidence here. Awards are often downgraded for good reason and it has nothing to do with limiting “bloody realities.” The services use written guidance to determine award levels common to all the services, though interpretations do vary. Because awards directly benefit promotion, there are limits to how many individual commanders can give out. This is to prevent demeaning of awards by awarding too many of them. Even so, Bronze stars, for instance, are fast becoming the standard battlefield award, even for non-combat related duty – quite a change from past wars. The result is to lessen the prestige of the award, which causes commanders to put people in for higher awards to differentiate people from the bronze star.

    I’ve deployed to Afghanistan twice and I think the chain of command is right to limit the number of awards at the bronze-star level and above.

    Finally, the same argument you use as reasoning for the limited number of MOH winners can apply to other awards as well.

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