A season for farewells
There are a lot of us who are leaving. Our colonel is leaving this week, our executive officer soon thereafter, the S1 soon, the S2, various NCOs; and that’s all in addition to the swaths of people already somewhere else.
And, wouldn’t you know it? I’m about to leave too. Ha!
I guess the biggest deal is the colonel’s departure, as that involves the hallowed tradition of the change of command ceremony—a tremendously turbulent affair involving programs, seating charts, marching rehearsals and dozens of hours of undue stress. You wouldn’t believe the amount of senior and general officers who can get involved with word choices in ceremony narration scripts. I think we finally settled on “dedicates,” rather than “deffers” “has dedicated” or whatever else took so long to hash out. Being on staff is far closer to “Office Space” than I ever wanted to get.
With the colonel’s exit, so goes his regime—his atmosphere and his ability to influence awards for guys like me. So that’s why, after I brought it up to my S1 (personnel guy), I asked if I was even going to get an award before my exit.
Mind you, awards in the Army are a terribly inflated and backwards affair. In other services, you do something extraordinary, you get medals. In the Army, you show up to work, and there are various medals and awards you’re expected to receive, especially at certain points in your career.
So, again, as the S1 was bragging about the Meritorious Service Medal he was scheduled to receive, I asked, “Sir, will I get something?”
It was a bit of a rhetorical. I of course was deserving of something. I asked to prod and remind him of his duty, as my de facto supervisor, to put me in for something before he got too comfortable with his status as “almost leaving” and ceased to be of any use to anyone.
“Oh yeah, Sergeant Salmons, you need one too, I guess,” he rolled the idea around with his eyes. “Go ahead and put yourself in for a Meritorious Service Medal. Have it into me by the end of the day.”
The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM), a pretty high-level award. Well, it used to be.
The Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) occupies the rung below the MSM, below that is the Army Achievement Medal (AAM). Privates and Specialists are expected to get an AAM upon completion of an assignment, with the ARCOM being the, “This soldier was exceptional!” award.
Sergeants, staff sergeants, sergeants first class and junior officers get ARCOMs as ‘gimmies’ for completing a tour of duty, with the MSM as the “This guy was great!” award.
It’s ridiculous how it works, but that’s the way it is. People, when they go over your awards for promotion or a quick judge of character, can count up your medals to see if your command thought you were average or superior.
So my major wanted to recommend me for an MSM? That was pretty sweet.
I had, after all, received a lot of external kudos while I was at this unit. A couple of units on Hood look at some of my stuff for examples on how to do such-n-such, which is very flattering! FORSCOM selected me as their Journalist of the Year for 2006, meaning out of all the active-duty journalists in the states, I was picked as the top guy. The Army selected the newsletter I created as the best publication produced in a combat theater, which is an amazing honor, Masha’Allah! The Department of Defense selected me to teach at their school for journalists. All that, and I had designed unit emblems, posters, taught soldiers how to take pictures and write stories, was working alone and in a position of responsibility above my rank. I gave up a lot of spare time, working weekends, working late at night, etc.
So, yeah, why not an MSM? Up until now I had received squat from my command for my two and a half years of service, save a downgraded award at the end of my Iraq tour (where my boss had put me in for a Bronze Star, but I was deemed undeserving, and pined the lesser award…ironic, as the Army titles I won were from my Iraq work).
My personnel people helped me write out the award citation, bullets and all that. And it was submitted with the major’s. Two days later, mine was returned, marked “downgraded.” Again, I would pin the, “Eeeh, he was average” award.
I’ve taken picture after picture of troops getting medals for funeral details, serving as color guards, making sure things looked nice for generals; but the journalist can’t get any love here, it seems, for performing at a level which puts him near the top of his career field, all while promoting the unit, the officers, their ideas, the accomplishments of the troops…. Hell, I’ve never received a coin from this damned command, which is the basic token of “Hey, good job!” that troops get scores of as they go about their jobs.
I know it seems petty, and it is, the whole damn thing is petty. I just get a little irked that I spent so many nights and weekends making these officers look good so they could get their promotions and was left with a quick “Well…see ya!” on their way out.
I guess it really is time to get out of here.