WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon has made a number of changes to the military decorations and awards program to ensure service members receive appropriate recognition of their actions, according to a statement released Jan. 7.
The changes come after a long and deliberate review, a defense official told reporters in a Jan. 6 background briefing. Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel initiated the review in 2014 to improve the military awards program by harnessing lessons learned from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the official said.
“He wanted to ensure that we’re appropriately recognizing our service members for their services, actions and sacrifices,” the defense official added.
The Pentagon statement points out key changes to the decorations and awards program:
• Implementation of new goals and processes to improve timeliness of the Medal of Honor and other valor awards
• Standardization of the meaning and use of the Combat Distinguishing Device, or “V” device, as a valor-only device to ensure unambiguous and distinctive recognition for preeminent acts of combat valor
• Creation of a new combat device, to be represented by a “C” worn on the relevant decoration, to distinctly recognize those service members performing meritoriously under the most arduous combat conditions
• Introduction of a “remote impacts” device, signified by an “R” to be worn on the relevant decoration, to recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations
• Adoption of a common definition of Meritorious Service Under Combat Conditions to determine eligibility for personal combat awards
Service cross, Silver Star review
To “ensure that those service members who performed valorously were recognized at the appropriate level,” the defense official said that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has directed the military departments to review Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross and Silver Star Medal recommendations since Sept. 11, 2001, for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are approximately 1,000 Silver Star and 100 service cross recommendations under review, the official said. While there is a possibility a medal could get upgraded, no service member will have the award downgraded, he said.
The defense official noted “unusual Medal of Honor awards trends,” as a one reason for the review. The first seven Medal of Honor awards for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were posthumous, he said. There may have been a perception that only a fallen service member could receive the nation’s highest military award for valor, he said.
After the Defense Department clarified the “risk of life” portion for the Medal of Honor’s criteria in 2010, all 10 recipients have been living, he noted. The review is to ensure that no one deserving of a higher honor has been overlooked, the defense official said.
The results of the reviews are due to the secretary of defense on Sept. 30, 2017, he said.