More Like This, Please

Pentagon reviews the actions of a living soldier for a possible Medal of Honor. Washington Post:

The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

The soldier, whose nomination must be reviewed by the White House, ran through a wall of enemy fire in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in fall 2007 in an attempt to push back Taliban fighters who were close to overrunning his squad. U.S. military officials said his actions saved the lives of about half a dozen men.

It is possible that the White House could honor the soldier’s heroism with a decoration other than the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Nominations for the Medal of Honor typically include detailed accounts from witnesses and can run hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. The review has been conducted so discreetly that the soldier’s family does not know that it has reached the White House, according to U.S. officials who discussed the nomination on the condition of anonymity because a final decision is pending.

Pentagon officials requested that The Washington Post not name the soldier to avoid influencing the White House review. Administration officials declined to comment on the nomination.

Medal of HonorThe not-naming part seems a little gutless. Our admin can’t review courage above and beyond without being swayed by newspapers?

The article goes on to note that all six MOH awards in the Iraq and Afghan wars were posthumous, three for covering grenades with their bodies.* That the Pentagon and White House are willing to countenance the fact that a soldier can show extraordinary courage and live is important not only for the reality it represents but for the message it sends.

Homefront war coverage in our time has focused heavily on death, PTSD, and the poor treatment of soldiers by their own government, while the actual war front coverage has been largely about despair and failure, even when we win. For all the “support the troops,” there has been very little effort to understand and appreciate those who chose this life and have soldiered on through all the setbacks and political vitriol, or to highlight their extraordinary actions and accomplishments. If the White House wants to win the shooting war,** it needs to remember it has a homefront battle that it has been on the wrong side of. Honoring a live American hero, not least one who stood up in selflessly what is now being deemed a failed effort, could be a good start.

Because this American hero fought in what is now a strategically abandoned position. The Post goes out on this note:

There are at least three Medal of Honor nominations, including the one at the White House, working through the system. The three nominees served in sparsely populated valleys in eastern Afghanistan that U.S. troops have abandoned in recent years.

The valleys, which are within 30 miles of each other, are dominated by treacherous, mountainous terrain that frequently allowed enemy fighters to move within close range of U.S. forces before launching their attack. The remote nature of the valleys meant that troops often had to fight for an hour before attack helicopters arrived on the scene to drive back the enemy.

Senior military officials described the fighting in those valleys as some of the toughest since the Korean and Vietnam wars. “It is a very, very challenging fight,” said one military official. “It is sustained lengthy ground combat.”
The relatively large number of potential Medal of Honor nominations emerging from this remote area of Afghanistan also reflected a war strategy that asked U.S. commanders to do too much with too few resources, military analysts said. Frequently troops were overextended in hostile terrain.

“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.

Hard to argue with trying to be smart and avoid getting killed. Nagl undoubtedly knows a lot more about warfighting and counterinsurgency than I do. But ways not to earn the Medal of Honor as a strategic and/or tactical principle starts to sound like the other side of that “Courageous Restraint” coin. A kind of “first do no harm” school of warfighting that has led to complaints that troops are being asked not to protect themselves, and to position themselves where they will not be forced to protect themselves. How about stationing our troops in places where they can effectively kill the enemy, cut off the enemy’s movements and supply lines, and protect the population, and giving them the freedom to do those things? If those happen to be places where someone at some point is called on to go beyond, and earns the Medal of Honor, so be it.

Good point on the air support, though. At last check, the troops in Afghanistan are getting tired of not being allowed to kill the enemy, and some Afghans aren’t crazy about it, either. It gets people killed when you do that.

On that subject, Gen. Petraeus, while you’re reconsidering the ROE, please reconsider that “courageous restraint” thing. Courage takes many forms, all deserving of recognition, but actively encouraging soldiers and commanders to engage in poor decision-making is a bad idea. Previously re that, The Taliban Cross.

*Not to include USMC Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was deemed to have been likely brain dead when he fell on a grenade. His Navy Cross became an issue, which may be the kind of thing the White House is now trying to avoid by keeping it under wraps, with Washington Post enablance.

** It’s far from certain whether the White House actually does want to win, though as some commentators have noted, by naming Gen. Petraeus to run the war, the president effected handed political control of that decision to the military, apparently, hopefully, defaulting to victory. Gutless and accidental, but hey, if it gets the job done …

Posted on 1 Jul 2010
Crossposted on http://www.julescrittenden.com

Photo: WikimediaCommons

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2 thoughts on “More Like This, Please

  1. Eric says:

    @”That the Pentagon and White House are willing to countenance the fact that a soldier can show extraordinary courage and live is important not only for the reality it represents but for the message it sends.”From what I know about MoHs, earning one basically requires extraordinary acts under circumstances in which the recipient reasonably should have died.

  2. […] up upon and seemingly answering Jules Crittenden’s previous critique this summer that the United States of America had failed to appropriately honor numerous valorous […]

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