February 01, 2010

Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 2/1/10
Returned to: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghan Quest

The idea’s being kicked around -- probably not by anyone who is capable or motivated to make a change in the policy -- but it has been heard by these ears plenty, and from plenty of people. Most of them have “been there, done that.” They have the little knickknacks on their apparel to show it. The idea itself is about the knickknacks; the badges.

    “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
                                    ~John Belushi

Oh, yes, we do. We really really do.

We have a little phenomenon in the Army called “badge-hunting.” Although mid-grade officers, very senior NCOs and fobbits are most often accused of it, everyone wants their “stinking badges.” It affects how those who haven’t yet “gotten some” go about their business. They are looking for the fight that will earn them their combat badge, either the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge) or CAB (Combat Action Badge). Medics are less likely to go way out of their way to get their CMB (Combat Medical Badge), but if they earn it, they want it.

You have a tendency to find what you are looking for. Sometimes, it gets extreme.

    "In late 2007, a Police Mentor Team assigned to train and mentor the ANCOP (Afghan National Civil Order Police) were operating in Konduz for a brief period. Miles away from their accustomed stomping grounds, which to that point had been mostly in and around Kabul, and many kilometers from the nearest flagpole, the PMT were wrapping up their visit to Konduz and would soon return to Kabul. No one could predict where their next mission would take them, or when. They had spent months in the classrooms and training areas to that point. There had been no contact.

    During a CONOP, there was a loud explosion near the convoy and a gunner opened fire with his M240 machine gun. Finally, there had been contact! Sworn statements were drawn up, and paperwork was submitted for the vaunted combat badges. Then the wheels came off the bus; an investigation ensued.

    The attack, it was determined, had been faked. The gunner, an NCO, had thrown a hand grenade, announced that the convoy was under RPG attack, and opened fire with his turret weapon without a legitimate target.

    Weeks later, the same team was sent to the Tagab Valley to replace the Tagab District ANP while they proceeded to Konduz for FDD (Focused District Development) training. The NCO who had thrown the grenade was not present. The ANCOP PMT was involved in several legitimate firefights with their ANCOP, all “qualifying” for the CIB/CAB. Irony."

While the above is an extreme case, it is an actual event. It is very likely not the only case of its type. A Soldier endangered lives, both military and civilian, in pursuit of a combat badge. While extreme cases are certainly rare, what about the less obvious badge hunts?

Do we really need Soldiers looking for their CIB or CAB? I submit that we need Soldiers who are attuned to their whole environment in the current fight -- which often doesn’t require actual fighting as much as it does awareness of the other, more subtle signals of the environment -- not Soldiers who are attuned more specifically to seeking the kinetic contact.

“Well,” one may say, “we do need Soldiers who are attuned enough to the actual fighting aspect so that they don’t leave themselves exposed to potential danger. We want aggressive Soldiers.”

Granted. However, once the Soldier knows that he has the badge qualifications, the Soldier has a tendency to do a couple of things. First, he realizes that getting shot at is not a picnic, and it’s not glorious. Many discover that, for instance, RPGs suck. And they become a bit more circumspect about seeking that fight. If their unit suffers losses, the bloom comes completely off the rose. Violent death and injuries are not adventure.

But a tremendous amount of damage can be done in that in-between time -- the time between when unadorned Soldiers arrive in-country and the time that they are absolutely sure that they have qualified for their badge, the symbol that they, too, have “been there and done that.” If one were to accept that this can have a detrimental effect, the question becomes, “So what would alleviate that negative effect?”

Take a step back in time. In WWII and Korea, for instance, an Infantryman (there was no such thing as a CAB at that time) had to be of a rank lower than Colonel and be an Infantryman in an Infantry unit in a combat line unit for thirty days; then they were all awarded their CIB. There was no requirement for sworn statements and determinations that the Soldier individually was exposed to a specific danger that would reasonably be expected to potentially cause him personal and immediate bodily harm or death. There were no awards boards considering CIBs for each and every individual Soldier and officer. The rules have changed, and many of us who have seen what it does to a Soldier’s mind; or especially a leader’s mind, wonder if this is productive.

The recommendation is to go back to the old rules. If you are in a qualifying unit in a combat zone for the requisite period of time (or are wounded prior to that time) then you qualify. Take the pressure off. All you have to do is perform your job satisfactorily. When you are there, in a combat zone, you can be attacked at any time. Why is it a lottery? What is the purpose? Recognize that everyone risks it, and then take the pressure off of the individual to come up with a story to earn it with.


makes too much sense. lorraine

Blue, I knew you and I think way too much alike. However I say take it up a notch. Since there are so many people that get to combat the first time and want to get some bling on their uniform and are willing to risk other (junior) soldier's lives to do it I say give it to them day one.

Yes it will cheapen the award, but for the most part those looking for badges are those looking for CABs. Prior to the (everyone get a trophy for playing) mindset of developing the CAB for those not in the Infantry or serving as combat medics, the other jobs in the army were not all that set on going looking for trouble. They knew they would automatically get their combat patch, campaign medals, and other auto-issued uniform bling. But since the CAB came on the stage and soldiers had to "qualify" for it, we have seen many a leader (and I use that term very loosely) take unnecessary risk and worse yet, risk other soldiers so they could get a CAB. When in was in A-stan, we called it a "CAB Safari" whenever those from the FOBs came down to our neck of the woods to 'check up on things'.

So rather than wait until the last month of a tour to go looking for trouble, I propose lining everyone up when the RIP/TOA ceremony happens and walking down the ranks and pinning CABs on everyone that gets one of those. For the Infantry and combat medics, don't disrespect them. They will not wear anything until they earn it so let them earn it as part of the job they signed up for.

Oh, and after they get done pinning these badges on everyone, be sure to tell them to take if off, because they are not authorized to be worn in country anyway.

So lets not mess around, give them their combat patch, CAB, and other medals they will get automatically. That way all they have to do is go back to their office and work and hopefully do such a good job behind the desk that they can somehow twist that work into a end of the tour Bronze Star. That way they have something to work towards.

We sure do appreciate the tough jobs you all do over there. My Dad as WWII and korea, pilot, and husband, Viet Nam, also pilot. They didn't talk much about it. But I can just imagine how hard it is, just being away from home, hostile territory, etc.
"War is directed by old men, with young men doing all the fighting." I really can't wait til this is all over and all of the American Soldiers can come home. You are ALL loved and appreciated.

Having been away from the "action" for almost 40 years, in Viet Nam, the same rules applied as WWII & Korea. As an Infantry Officer who was an aviator in an Air Cav Troop, I received mine for also being in charge of the Blues platoon for more than the requisite 30 days after the non-aviation 1LT who was the PLT CDR had to go home on Emergency Leave.
We didn't go looking for "action" but we did go out & do our jobs.
Also, if you were not in a line Infantry outfit, you didn't care about not getting a CIB, as you did get the other "fruit salad" that proved you were "over there".
I too would suggest returning the badge to the "old" way, and to be honest, get rid of the CAB. It sounds like a joke to this old soldier & it seems to be hurting folks in it's quest...

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