Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Change for the Worse

I recently had the opportunity to go to a maneuver battalion's weekly awards formation. First, it's been a while since I've stood in a long, battalion-sized formation. I've missed it. Really.
In the corresponding timeframe, I've also had occasion to get smart on the regulations for the award of the Combat Action Badge and the (new regulations for) the Combat Infantryman's Badge in order to recognize the achievements of the Mungadai.
I think that there is some bad juju going on here.
The Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was established by the War Department on 27 October 1943. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, then the Army Ground Forces commanding general, was instrumental in its creation. He originally recommended that it be called the "fighter badge." The CIB was designed to enhance morale and the prestige of the "Queen of Battle." Then Secretary of War Henry Stinson said, "It is high time we recognize in a personal way the skill and heroism of the American infantry."
In the years since, the CIB has been the primary "been there, done that" ticket stub for an infantryman or SF soldier.
With the advent of the insurgency in the Iraq war, the Army realized that the sacrifice and achievements of non-infantry, even non-combat arms soldiers needed recognition above and beyond the right-sleeve combat patch, and the Combat Action Badge was born. The CAB recognizes soldiers who, although serving in non-combat type jobs, have come under direct fire like unto situations traditionally experienced by infantrymen. Thus clerks, cooks, and mechanics, should they get into a firefight, now have an award that recognizes their combat experience. When the CAB became an authorized device for wear on the uniform, the regulation that delineates the rules for earning and wearing the CAB also modified the rules for the award of the CIB.
Originally, as long as an infantryman was assigned to a brigade-sized element or lower and served in the combat zone, he was awarded the CIB. Now, in order to earn the CIB or CAB, the soldier must "be personally present and under hostile fire" (AR 600-8-22).
This makes sense from a bureaucratic perspective. Once an award is available, it becomes a discriminator for evaluations, jobs, and promotion. Consequently, fraud and abuse will follow, and the bureaucracy must establish policy that will curtail, if not totally prevent, fraud and abuse.
Look at the reg from the perspective of commanding a combat unit. Look at it from running a combat unit in a COIN environment.
Say 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Alpha Company gets in a dust up which meets the prereqs for the award of the CIB (or CAB, if A Co is an armor unit), and after sworn statements and testimony as to the particulars of their firefight are taken they are awarded their highly coveted CIBs (or CABs) on a Sunday afternoon formation with much ado and hailing of their new bona fides as no-shit warriors, certified killers of men, owners of the official combat concert T-shirt. Now, what do you think, as patrols start exiting the wire on Monday morning, the young soldiers (and officers) of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squads, 1st Platoon, A Co, not to mention 2nd and 3rd Platoons, are focused on when they roll out into the ville? They want to get their shit. Be damned if those slackers from 1st Squad are going to get one up on us. This is not, in my opinion, the way you build a band of brothers.
As Napoleon said,"Give me enough medals, and I'll win any war."
I'm not sure that this is the mindset we're shooting for, as we battle insurgents in a highly populated urban area.
The kids that roll out into Mosul every day, day after day, should be awarded the combat device for the job they do; regardless of whether they, personally, are engaged. They are assuming a huge risk on a daily basis. In many ways, making contact with the enemy is actually desirable; for once, you get to engage the bad guys in a stand up fight, instead of worrying about exploding trash piles, push carts, 2-liter soda bottles and vehicles. Not to recognize each and every one of the troops that roll out of the wire every day, expecting to make contact or be engaged in some way, shape, or form, is a travesty.
The situation is akin to an old SF or LRRP guy in Vietnam, that spends his days snooping and pooping the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, calling in airstrikes from B-52's on lucrative targets, and who after a year of living at the tip of the spear goes home without a CIB because he was never "personally present under hostile fire."
That's just crazy.


  1. In the aviation community, we have the ubiquitous "reported tracer fire" by "CABhunters".

    I need to brush up on the specifics, but the award seems to be be subject to quite wide interpretation. Some battalions, performing similar missions, will give out drastically different numbers of CABs.

  2. Wow! Thanks for this update and your perspective on the whole thing. Very good.