The Medals They Carried, Ctd


A reader writes:

Yes, yes, yes! And I thought I was the only one who felt this way. I've been in the military 19 years and could – if I choose and in some cases, if allowed – wear 23 ribbons and five devices. I don't. I'm what I like to call a Top Three kind of guy; I only wear my top three ribbons. It always felt pretentious and self-aggrandizing to wear anything more. Many in the military look more like Third World dictators than servants of the people. It's just an embarrassment to see and I wish I could change that part of the system.


I hope you continue to discuss this culture of blown-up decorations in the military, but I want to add that this is not how the average soldier or officer sees their own role in the institution. Rather, this is how political men act within the military.

My father had a successful career as an Army Ranger but still to this day refuses to wear his dress blues, as did my grandfather, an Army general. There is a political culture in the military that, to outsiders, seems to be honorable and patriotic. But this culture does not represent all those who serve honorably, just the politicians who seek to bask in it.

Another great perspective from a soldier:

I wish I could say that the reader commenting on the medals was completely and utterly wrong, but I can't. The truth of the matter is many of the medals awarded to servicemembers are based on a job well done, not valor or meritorious service. In the six years I spent in the Army, six of the medals awarded to me were for exactly that: going above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

My Army Service ribbon was for making it out of Basic Training in one piece; my NCO Professional Development ribbon was for making it out of Primary Leadership Development in one piece. However, The National Defense Medal, The Southwest Asia Medal, and the Liberation of Kuwait medals on my uniform were for serving in Desert Storm. I'd have earned those whether I made it out in one piece or not.

There has been talk about tightening up the standards for awarding non-valor medals among the services before, for the exact reasons the reader is citing. The American military, especially in the officer ranks, look pretty ostentatious compared to their European counterparts once all the spaghetti is out on the dress uniform.

That said though: see those stripes on Petraeus's right sleeve? Each one of those equals six months spent on overseas duty. With all due respect, the reader needs to remember that while some of those medals on the general's chest are there for doing a job well, others are there because the general did that job overseas in a war zone while insurgents and enemy combatants tried to kill him.

Give servicemembers their medals. They earn them in the service of their country.

One of many readers to make this connection:

The first person who came to mind when I saw the portrait of General Petraeus was Leonid Brezhnev. (It's a close race for medals, but Brezhnev beats Petraeus in the eyebrow department.)

(Photo: A man looks at a caricature depicting Russian Premier Vladimir Putin as Leonid Brezhnev on his computer screen in Moscow on October 5, 2011. By Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

One more reader:

That post immediately made me think of a classic scene from the criminally under-rated I’m Gonna Get You Sucka:

To read the entire Dish thread on Petraeus' legacy and related tangents, go here.