Letting greed take you
Well friends, with just a scant few weeks left in the first official deployment, things are drawing down.
The offices are being cleared of things, containers are scheduled for packing, inspections loom…
…and it’s time for the end-of-tour award ceremonies.
I’ve talked about it before, the Army gives every one an award for showing up. Back in the day during Desert Storm, soldiers received a certificate of appreciation for average work and an Army Achievement Medal (AAM, our lowest award for achievement) for “outstanding” work.
Over the years, because of inflation I suppose, those standards have risen. Now, an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) is for the average, while a Bronze Star is for outstanding achievement.
This whole business played with my mind. On the one hand, I feel that people shouldn’t get such high awards for just showing up to work on time. To put things in perspective, remember Band of Brothers? Remember that episode near the start of the series when the Easy Company guys got together and assaulted the German artillery positions, inventing a new way of assaulting an entrenched position? That was crazy, eh? Yeah, they got Bronze Stars for that. Nowadays, as long as you don’t get pregnant or drunk, you get one. And if you do get pregnant or drunk, as long as you reform, you get the ARCOM.
So that’s what it used to be for. Now it’s the “good job” award, with the Army Commendation Medal as a “thanks for not f****** up too much” award.
On the other hand (still counting hands), if you don’t receive the best and shiniest medal, others judge you.
Back when I was a wee specialist (rank prior to my current disposition), I decided to apply months of my life in pursuit of soldier boards. These boards consist of senior enlisted “board members” who convene and grill you, arrayed in a perfectly assembled and groomed class A uniform, in various subjects of military knowledge.
It’s all terribly stressful, but I won several boards and was on the way to my major command’s soldier of the year board, which required me to jaunt on down to Georgia from Kentucky.
It was a big deal, honestly, and many other soldiers had received medals and awards for the steps along the way to the big year-end board. I hadn’t. While I could have been a self promoter, I thought that if my command felt I deserved an award, I should wait for them to recognize that. They never did.
“Where’s your medals, specialist?” one of the sergeants major on the final board asked.
“I don’t have any, sergeant major,” I replied, feeling a bit deflated when seeing the rack of colors on others’ chests.
“Well that’s the wrong answer! You need to get some,” he snapped back. He had misunderstood and thought I just hadn’t felt to put together my medal set. I don’t think he realized that I never had been given one.
I came in third out of twelve participants, which is still damn respectable, seeing how it was against the likes of Fort Bragg, Benning, Stewart, Knox, Polk, and several others–all the big’uns.
Later I went to an advanced journalist course at the Defense Information School and graduated top of my class. Then I went on to attend the Primary Leadership Development Course and was an honor graduate. There was nothing at first, but after making a bit of a huff, I finally got an AAM for all the individual events rolled into one.
But still, I felt that I shouldn’t be greedy. If my higher-ups didn’t think I deserved the same awards as others, that was fine. It was their business. It just was a bummer, as the “voice of Fort Knox” (a dubious honor granted from my oratory confidence demonstrated while at the boards), having to narrate post award ceremonies, I saw soldier after soldier receive kudos for the same achievements I had accomplished.
Even when I left Fort Knox, no award. Everyone receives a medal when leaving a station of duty. Again, it’s for doing your job, but, again, without it, your command thinks you’re a real f*** up. I had to call back and complain, and they eventually sent along a half-completed certificate that I’m still fighting to get recognized.
So for the deployment, I started to get a little greedy. Many had said it was my own fault for not “selling myself” and forcing my supervisors to put me in for awards. I had seen medal whores, the way they calculate and act only when others see them, just to be thought of as deserving for kudos. I didn’t want to be that way, but is that what it takes to garner the recognition necessary to be considered a decent troop?
As petty as it was, I decided I would push myself for the “outstanding” Bronze Star medal this year. I went out on convoys, attended briefings, did staff-level work with majors and captains, lived on other FOBs throughout theater, and received emails and phone calls from units I worked with, saying how they enjoyed my work.
While the colonel passed out ARCOMS to others throughout the year like candy, I reserved myself to aiming for that final award. Sure, all of the other major players would get one too, but it was my goal.
Since being put in for a Bronze Star herself, my boss thought it was proper to put me in for one too. Sweet! Victory! It would be my second medal for achievement–still laughable at my career stage, but dammit, I was still excited.
I volunteered to take the pictures of the Bronze Star award ceremony (they even went so far as to split them in two: the BSMs are given out by the commanding general for amazing-level work; the ARCOM ceremony, if it happens, is just a quick “yeah…uh, great job” deal later on). I didn’t need to stand up in front of anyone…just getting the medal was the world to me.
One of the admin sergeants took me aside, “You know they downgraded your award, right?”
“Oh!…Ummm, wow. Okay,” was all I could get out. “Did you guys still get yours?”
So there we are.
But you know what? I don’t like how prostituting for awards makes me fell. I’m tired of looking for a feeling of worth from the Army. I’m tired of looking for approval from the military. They can have it.
It’s a bummer, yeah, but it’s their call. I never would dishonor myself to outright complain about it. That’d be like a kid who throws a Christmas present down in anger because it’s not “good enough.” I did that once as a young dude, and it still bothers me that I could have been that greedy.
Besides, there’s always next year’s deployment.
That’s it. Rant over. Thanks for hanging with.