By Debbie Gregory.
The Defense Department will review more than 1,100 medals issued since the 9/11 terror attacks for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award issued for valor in combat
The decision follows a review of the entire military awards process that was started by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014. The goal is to make the military award system more consistent in its treatment.
The review was ordered by Defense Secretary Ash Carter following “curious” trends in the awarding of Medals of Honor following Sept. 11, 2001.
The first seven military medals were all awarded to military heroes posthumously, prompting the Defense Department to clarify that the award criteria included “risk of life,” but did not require loss of life. Since 2010, all ten Medal of Honor recipients have been living.
Additionally, three of the seven most recent Medals of Honor were actually upgraded from lesser award recommendations, while none of the earlier ones were.
The secretaries from each branch of the military must meet the Sept. 30, 2017 deadline to review the next-highest awards to the Medal of Honor (approximately 1,000 Silver Stars and nearly 100 service crosses) to determine if they warrant higher awards. Officials said it’s up to the individual services to determine how to conduct that review.
The Pentagon is now implementing changes to ensure that Medal of Honor and other valor medal recommendations are submitted and reviewed within 45 days of the valorous action, and must be processed up the chain of command and reach the defense secretary within a year of the initial recommendation.
Additionally, the appropriate geographic combatant commander will now review Medal of Honor nominations following a recommendation. This to avoid a repeat of Army Capt. William Swenson’s 19-month delay in receiving his award due to lost awards paperwork.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, saluted the Pentagon’s medal review but called it overdue. He blamed military red tape and too many layers of approval required for all military medals awarded for valor.
Another significant change will be the introduction of a new medal device: a “C” device for meritorious service under combat conditions, and an “R” device for troops who use remote technology, such as drones.
The “C” device will be affixed to awards earned while serving under combat conditions with “significant risk of hostile action,” but outside of direct combat.
The “R” device reflects the changing nature of combat and the necessity of ensuring that remote actions with a direct impact on combat are recognized.
The Bronze Star be limited to individuals meeting the definition of “Meritorious Service under Combat Conditions,” officials said.
On December 4, 2014, the USO of Metropolitan New York held their 53rd Armed Forces Gala and Gold Medal Dinner. As part of the evening’s festivities, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. and his wife, Mary, were honored with the USO’s Distinguished Service Award.
This was the first time a military leader and his spouse were awarded this particular honor, which is normally reserved for philanthropists and charitable organizations. The Winnefelds said that they were honored to accept an award from an organization they admire and respect.
“We should be awarding [members of the USO] for the things that you do each and every day,” Adm. Winnefeld said.
During his acceptance speech, Adm. Winnefeld recognized the military family members in the audience, particularly Gold Star mothers, those who had lost a child in service to their country. He also referred to the military as a family business.
The second-highest recognized member of the U.S. military also singled out his wife for her decades of work on behalf of the military community.
“I’m fairly certain we are here tonight primarily because of her,” Adm. Winnefeldsaid.
Mary Winnefeld has been helping military families for 30 years. She has volunteered her time in support of the families of deployed sailors, often cooking meals at Fisher House, or just providing comfort to those families. To this day, Mrs. Winnefeld remains a strong advocate for hiring Veterans and securing benefits for wounded warriors and their caregivers.
The admiral told attendees a story about how his wife once went “undercover” at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center as “Aunt Mary” to see firsthand how wounded service members and their families were being treated. Her findings and follow up efforts resulted in numerous improvements.
“She has a heart of gold, and I’m so very proud of her,” Adm. Winnefeld said.
The admiral and his wife graciously thanked the USO for all they do around the country. They reminded gala attendees to remember the U.S. service members, “in every time zone across the globe, who are hot, tired and dirty, who are sailors standing the watch on a ship’s bridge or in an engine room, or soldiers or Marines gearing up to go outside the wire, or airmen getting an airplane ready to launch out at some remote desert airfield.”
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Military Connection: USO Honors Admiral Winnefeld: By Debbie Gregory