Next month is my Back to School class Basic Training on Military Culture, so I’ve been working on the four lessons for it. Despite having been in the military, I really had to think about why some things are the way they are. We’ve had numerous stories in the press lately, from Arlington Cemetery to this one in the Los Angeles Times — “One Man’s Heroic Quest” about the military not keeping track of the most important medals that are awarded.
One of the first stories I heard about the Medal of Honor (MOH) when I was in the military was one a fellow soldier told me. This medal is often presented posthumously, but this one soldier had survived. He lived in the barracks and a colonel came through for an inspection. The room was not up to military standards, and the colonel started in on the soldier. Without a word, the soldier took out the MOH and dropped it on the bed. The colonel saluted him, turned around, and left.
Image courtesy of The Army Center of Military History
Military medals are never “won.” They are not a prize. A medal is given to a soldier for actions above and beyond the call of duty. Anyone can submit another soldier for a medal — you have to write up the reason why. Then it goes through channels and is either approved, approved and downgraded, or disapproved. The soldier receiving is told it is her responsibility to make sure she gets it into her records.
And according to the article above, the military hasn’t really been keeping records of what’s been given.
It probably looks to you like a disgrace — I like to dabble with genealogy, so I know how important keeping records is. But I think the problem isn’t laziness in doing paperwork or that no one cares — I think it’s more rooted in the military culture.
Consider the following: Everything about what the soldier does is focused on preparing for battle — it’s the primary mission. Every week an entire battalion will take a training day to work on tasks needed for battle. That might be firing the rifle, doing first aid, or even being out in the field. Because, if the soldier isn’t trained, she’s going to run into trouble fairly fast in the chaos of battle. During the rest of the week, it’s working in the military job the soldier was trained for, which will also be used in battle.
Where in there is tracking military awards that have been given?
Right. It doesn’t have anything to do with preparing for war, so it falls to the bottom of the priority list and maybe even on the next page.
Do you have a family member in the military? Past or present — post what service they are/were in and where they served.
Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller
For a little Halloween fun, visit my short fiction piece on IO9′s Concept Art Writing Prompt for House of Green Cats. Nothing spooky or scary! My article Balancing Writing and Blogging is also up over at Vision: A Resource for Writers.