Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
New Pentagon policy aims to ensure heroic US service members get the valor awards they deserve
As the Pentagon wraps up a sweeping three-year review of valor medals awarded in conflicts after Sept. 11, 2001, officials are preparing to roll out a new policy designed to ensure acts of military heroism receive the full recognition they deserve.
Expected to be announced this month, the new policy will trigger an automatic review at the higher headquarters level within 120 days for any Silver Star or service cross not reviewed by the appropriate service secretary. This will help ensure that troops are not inadvertently approved for lesser awards than they deserve, said Patricia Mulcahy, the Pentagon's director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management.
"The view is, at the highest levels is where you would see more of these higher-level awards," Mulcahy told Military.com. "And at a lower level, there are so few folks that do get the highest level of recognition that they might not be as familiar with it from a command perspective. So we're putting this additional review in."
The Pentagon's medals review was launched in 2016 under then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter out of concern that, due to inconsistency or lack of knowledge in the process, some troops who served in post-9/11 conflicts might be missing out on honors they were due.
In all, officials said, some 1,400 awards were reviewed -- ranging from Bronze Stars with Valor to service crosses -- and 57 medals were ultimately upgraded. The upgraded awards included four Medals of Honor, including two for the famous 2002 Battle of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan; 30 service crosses; and 23 Silver Stars. Several Army awards are still in the review process and have yet to be announced, officials said.
Those awarded the Medal of Honor as a result of the review include former Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski, a former member of SEAL Team 6 who received the award in May 2018; fallen Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, who was posthumously awarded the medal in August 2018; former Army Sgt. Ronald Shurer, a medic who received the medal in October 2018; and Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, who was posthumously awarded the medal last month.
Officials who spoke with Military.com said the review process did not reveal any trends indicating troops were being systematically overlooked for higher awards, but did indicate that familiarity with evaluating the most prestigious combat awards makes a difference.
"From an award criteria [standpoint], for the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Navy Cross, it does say for actions not warranting award of the Medal of Honor," said Doug Johnson, assistant director for Military Decorations and Awards Policy at the Pentagon. " ... And so by virtue of the way the criteria is written, you should be looking at it against the higher-level award criteria."
The new automatic review policy, he said, will ensure that awards that cannot receive full consideration at a lower level due to operational demands or other pressures make it to the desk of the relevant service secretary quickly, for closer examination.
"That way, that organization that does [award evaluations] regularly knows what that criteria is and can review what was approved downrange," Johnson said.
A breakdown in the medal awards process is what prompted a multi-part review of the system and of decided awards in the first place.
Then-Army Capt. William Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor in 2013 for heroism during the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan in 2009, was subjected to a 19-month delay in receiving his award due to lost paperwork, prompting a public apology from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
When the Pentagon announced Carter's medals review in 2016, it also rolled out a number of changes to the awards process. Among new requirements introduced then were a 45-day deadline for initiating nominations for awards following valorous action; a one-year time limit on presentation of awards below the Medal of Honor; mandatory notification of the applicable service's decorations and awards branch by the first general or admiral endorsing a Medal of Honor nomination; and a review by the appropriate geographic combatant commander on Medal of Honor nominations following a service secretary's recommendation.
The case of one upgrade, in particular, highlights the significance of the pains the Pentagon has taken to revisit medal awards and give each service member his or her due.
Shurer, a Green Beret medic who heroically triaged wounded troops during a brutal 2008 battle in Afghanistan's Shok Valley, saw his award upgraded by two degrees, from Silver Star all the way to Medal of Honor. He received his rightful award last year amid another battle -- with Stage 4 lung cancer.
"Mr. Shurer, it was passed on to me that he was very surprised the upgrade," Johnson said. "We did keep it close hold. ... It was a good news story that we were able to get him recognized."
This article originally appeared on Military.com
More articles from Military.com:
- Retirees, Civilians, Want to Live in Base Housing? Yes, You Can!
- We Explain Tricare's Explanation of Benefits
- Soldier who Shot Himself in Head Appeals Army's Decision to Deny Benefits
WATCH NEXT: Marines and the Medal of Honor
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that U.S. strategic goals could include drawing down troops in Africa despite French pleas that American support is "critical" to countering the growing strength of terror groups in the region with links to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
"My aim is to adjust our footprint in many places," including Africa, to free up forces for a "great power competition" against China and Russia, he said at a joint Pentagon news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.
The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.
The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.
One person was injured by Sunday's rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Task & Purpose was learned. The injury was described as mild and no one was medically evacuated from the embassy following the attack.
A U.S. E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed on Monday on Afghanistan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has confirmed.
The US government is letting Marine veteran Austin Tice languish in a Syrian prison, according to his mother
The mother of Marine veteran Austin Tice told reporters on Monday that a top U.S. official is refusing to give permission for a meeting with the Syrian government to negotiate the release of her son, who went missing near Damascus in 2012.
"Apparently, somewhere in the chain, there is a senior U.S. government official who is hesitating or stalling," Debra Tice reportedly said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Debra Tice said she is not certain who this senior official is. She also praised those in government who are working to get her son back.