Bronze Star or Bust

Updated: May 15, 2012

Solomon G. is an Non-Commisoned officer in the Air Force who we found running up and down the tarmac at an airfield in South Dakota.  When we asked him why the hell he was doing that he replied that he was bored.  Well, we put his ass to work and now he is helping us bring you the Air Force perspective on life in the military uniform.

By RU Contributor Solomon G.

Ahhh… So there I was on my couch. Relishing in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan for what has to be the 54th time. Bullets piercing the air, explosions shaking my walls via my surround sound system and the cry of war filling the room… Perfect! I’m not really a war movie junkie, but I can’t resist this type of action captured on film, especially when there’s some authentic historical content and true heroism being portrayed. These brave young men are part of what Tom Brokaw called- “The Greatest Generation”. Men and women that didn’t fight for fame or recognition, they fought because it was the right thing to do.

In February 1944, Executive Order 9419 established the Bronze Star Medal (BSM) to recognize the achievements of many of those young war-fighters. Basically, the Bronze Star Medal is awarded to individuals who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States in a combat theater, distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement, or by meritorious service not involving aerial flight. The “V” or Valor device is added to the medal when it is earned through an act of combat heroism. Criteria for the medal adjusted slightly over the years, but the basic idea is that the medal is awarded for those that kiss ass in combat.

Recently, a couple of Air Force NCOs received BSMs for their role in the War on Terror while serving in Afghanistan. They didn’t put some bad guy in the crosshairs of their Barrett M82 sniper rifle and make his head explode to reduce a threat on their team during a fire fight, nor did they secure a HVT during a midnight raid that went haywire. They “accurately executed operational funds in support of counter-surgency efforts”. Yep. That’s what they did in a nutshell. They were both comptrollers or “money handlers” that were awarded one of this nation’s highest military honors for putting dollars on target. I’m certain there is much more to their citation than what I just suggested, but at first glance, I had to say Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Once this story went viral, the net exploded with thousands of blogs about how it was wrong for them to receive the medal and how the military (AF) is demeaning such a prestigious recognition. So much negative criticism hit the AF.mil site that the story was eventually removed! Think about it though. Did their efforts meet the intent of the medal? Did they serve meritoriously in a combat zone?

When I think of a Bronze Star Medal recipient, I think of Senior Airman Michael Malarsie, a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) member who also recently received a BSM with Valor for his efforts while deployed to Afghanistan back in January of 2010. SrA Malarsie was supporting an Army infantry unit when he stepped up with his team mates to clear a foot bridge of explosives. Unfortunately, a member of his team detonated an IED, instantly killing him and throwing Malarsie from the blast site, rendering him unconscious. He woke to find his team in the middle of a firefight. He was treated and patched up by the team medic, but was blinded and suffered a broken jaw. Despite being badly wounded, Malarsie did what he could to support his team… Until the second IED exploded that further injured him and killed another airman, along with the medic that just treated him. But still, he fought on by handing out his ammunition to those that could return fire. Eventually they were rescued and the rest as they say is history… BAMF, kick the shit out of the enemy, Bronze Star with Valor history.

Today, this warrior is still on active duty. That’s right SrA Malarsie is 100% blind and on active duty working as the Administrator of the Recovering Airman Mentorship Program at Lackland AFB. This program provides aid to recovering service members and their families. Tough kid…

Your opinion of who is most deserving of the BSM will definitely vary. I have my own impression of the type of warrior who has this medal pinned to their chest. Either way, the criteria for this medal is open to interpretation. It was originally established with the best intentions in mind. Whether or not you believe staying inside the wire in hardened facility while performing your duties as a money handler is equally as deserving as confronting the enemy in a face to face gunfight is irrelevant. Both acts fall within the established criteria for the Bronze Star Medal.

Our warriors perform hundreds of acts down range everyday that are deserving of the BSM, unfortunately they are not all captured on paper and submitted for recognition. I don’t have one and don’t think I’ve done anything remotely deserving of one, but I am proud to serve with these warfighters that have truly earned this award…. Unapologetically.

Now, back to the movie…Our boys are about to storm the bunker…






  1. Jon Nunemaker

    May 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I can only shake my head at the 2 AF females who received the BSM. Whoever put them in for it must have insanely strong write ups that they submitted. On the Army side I have seen officers who never left the wire receive BSM’s. I disagree with those too. I think the whole awards process is jacked up. To say that someone of a certain rank rates an award based on rank is WRONG. I can say that I have earned all I have on my chest the hard way. I just cant see how somone who was a money controller earned the same.

    • FrmrChemGuy

      June 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      While our local National Guard unit was pulling out of Iraq a few years back, they witnessed their active duty relief unit coming in and setting up, processing paperwork for all the staff officers and senior NCO’s for BSM’s…they had been in the sand all of 1 week and none of them had left the wire yet…but our guys, who had just served 22 months active duty, were told they couldn’t have anything they didn’t fully earn and that’s the way they wanted it. They didn’t want a blanket bullsh*t medal, they wanted to earn it or not have it.

  2. The Hoff

    May 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I too have seen the AF hand these out to people who really don’t do anything but ride on the accomplishments of those below them. It is disheartening to know that a comptroller can do their job with minimal error (no small feat) and gets a BSM, but the SF kids getting birdshot embeded in their face at the recent riots at BAF will likely not see a thing from it or those JTACs that are daily bringing hell from the sky.

  3. It Is What It Is

    May 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    The part that has been left out is that these awards go up to a board for approval. Anyone can write an award for anything. It’s not those NCOs fault they got put in for a BSM. I don’t think they should have ever been put in for it to begin with, but it still was put up and the board still approved it. If anything, they need to be pissed off at the board that approved it, not the NCOs.

  4. JSmith

    May 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    When I was in Afghanistan, everyone E5 and above received a Bronze Star and us lower enlisted guys received ARCOMMs. An E-5 and I did the exact same job for 6 months, but his award was was a Bronze Star and mine was an ARCOMM. Pretty stupid if you ask me.

  5. Steve

    May 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Awards have been turned into a couple facts, surrounded by epic fluffiness and the ability to write well and be articulate. Yup that’s about it. People bastardize awards by finding ways to justify higher awards by word play. It would be nice if everyone looked at the “spirit” of the award instead of trying to find ways to articulate an undeserving award. Unfortunately people choose to wear them. I wouldn’t wear it unless I felt that I actually earned it based upon the spirit of the award.

    • Jinger

      May 21, 2012 at 8:14 am

      On the money, Steve. Just your run of the mill pogue here, but I’ve processed plenty of awards. It is extremely frustrating to see the same citation on an ARCOM/BSM.

  6. SrA Brcka

    May 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Very nice article. I recently returned from a joint deployment and while I was there this BSM story came about. I talked to an Army captain and he confirmed that individuals, SNCOs, Maj and up, would recieve BSM as end of tour awards.

    I go on to AF portal to see what people have to say about this topic and for the most part I see the lower enlisted corps saying how this cheapens the actions combat vets do (“V” device aside). What’s sad is that I see higher ranking individuals trying to defend the citations. Gee I guess they’re trying to justify the BSM they recieved.

    My main gripe is that why did these two comptrollers receive their BSM so soon while SrA Malarsie had to suffer losing his eye sight, his friend SrA Bradley Smith (the other TACP member), and had to wait TWO years to receive his BSM?

    I’m not saying the comptrollers shouldn’t be recognized for their efforts, but if the BSM is also awarded for meritorious service then what’s the point of having the Meritorious Service Medal?

  7. David G Terrell

    May 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    My experience is that the BSM without the “V” is just a “Commendation Medal earned in a combat AO.”

  8. R Turner

    May 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Unfortunately, I was told by a senior USAF Commander that what David said is exactly the view of the AF; the BSM is simply a combat zone commendation medal. Fliers get Air Medals so ground pounders get the BSM. During Desert Storm I actually saw a commander whose BSM narative included “established an effective vehicle control program.” As a former soldier before I was a pilot I found it embarrassing.

    • Gunship Load

      May 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      To compare a Bronze Star with an Air Medal tells me that you know nothing of the requirements for an Air Medal. I have five of them. All I had to do was fly 20 missions in theatre for each one of them. I did nothing special, other than my job.

      Do I deserve a Bronze Star, hell no! Do I know fliers that have them, yes.

      I wear my Air Medals, but they mean nothing to me. Its just “Uniform Jewelry”. Nothing more, nothing less. I have two ARCOMS and one AFCOM.

      Honestly, the medal I have that means the most to me was from my Army days, TDY from Ft. Campbell to Ft. Polk.

      It’s a Army Achievement Medal. I did something to get that one.

  9. Crashmedic

    May 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    last year we were on a deployment for manning for an ORE. While out one night, we saw a choking victim, and immediately acted on the situation. We saved the woman’s life, and got dinner bought for us ( which we really didn’t want, but they had money to flash, so, yeah). No big deal. One of the guys who was there wrote us up for the actions we performed. Our shirt recognized us the next reserve weekend at a formation. We then watched two Sergeants receive Air Force accommodation medals. One for EOD ( legit job), the other for being a station captain @ a FOB in Iraq, and raising morale through wit and humor( he served 2 months of the 6 month deployment). I haven’t seen anything out of the choking incident yet. When i questioned about it, the board had said we were “just doing our jobs”( We’re Firemen). I don’t want a medal, but if you’re handing them out for wit and humor, throw a guy a bone.

  10. Alex Rueda

    May 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Just wanted to put my 2 sense into this. So I did 4 years Active Duty Army Infantry and Deployed to Iraq. 3 years Nasty Girl time and now I’m in the Air Force Reserves. So with that said I hate awards…I say this because I have seen my CO get a Sliver Star for his command during Iraq, which he didn’t do his job well at all but they were like hey here is a Sliver Star for doing your job. Than my Shit Bag squad leader gets a Bronze Star…for doing HIS JOB! I had a friend who saved someones life and they put him in for an ARCOM with V device and they down graded it to an AAM with V device. He saved someones life.WTF
    Now I know a lot of us in the military have lost buddies and family members to the wars. I have lost 2 friends which are like brothers to me. They received a Bronze Star or above because they gave the greatest sacrifice which was their lives. So this is why I hate awards because we have people who do there jobs, get an honor such as a Sliver Star or Bronze Star. Then we have someone who saves a life and gets it down graded. There is something wrong with that. I feel like the military is taking away from the meaning of these awards. To me a Bronze Start is a big honor, same with AAM with V device.

  11. Kurdz

    May 21, 2012 at 12:55 am

    BLUF, the medal system is messed up, and the fact that SrA Malarsie had to wait two years to see his BSM is a travesty. Has anyone stopped to think about why it is so messed up? At the same time people are complaining that the medal system is messed up and bashing people that received a BSM for service inside the wire. Am I the only one that sees the irony in all of this? The comments here are not nearly as bad as some I have seen on this topic, but I will put my two cents in anyway.

    If you haven’t actually read the criteria for the BSM and decided to run your mouth, shame on you! You are part of the problem because you are spreading your ignorance.

    If you have actually read the criteria and commented that people only “deserve” the BSM if they shoot someone in the face, or get shot at outside wire, then shame on you too! You are either unable to comprehend what you have read, or you have you are acting on your opinion about what you think it should say and don’t care about what it actually says. If reading comprehension is the problem, then you probably shouldn’t be posting things on the internet. If you disregard the medal criteria and go off what you think it should say, then you are also part of the problem with the medal system.

    Let me help you out. The BSM is awarded to individuals who “distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement, or by meritorious service”. As the author stated “Whether or not you believe staying inside the wire in hardened facility while performing your duties as a money handler is equally as deserving as confronting the enemy in a face to face gunfight is irrelevant. Both acts fall within the established criteria for the Bronze Star Medal.”

    One of the reasons why the medal system is so jacked up is because people are submitting medals, not submitting medals, approving medals, or disapproving medals based on their opinions of what they think a particular medal should be, and completely ignoring the established criteria. If you think the criteria for the BSM should be something different, you are entitled to that opinion. If you say that someone doesn’t DESERVE the BSM because their actions fit the criteria but not your opinion of what that criteria should be, then you should be taken out back and taught a lesson in respect. That is of course just my opinion.

  12. Airborne

    June 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    A Navy Supply Corps Commander (O-5) got a BSM for performing contracting in an air conditioned office

  13. Kevin

    June 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Unfortunately this also happens in the Army. I am a civilian now but I work for the Army (No not a contractor). While in Afghanistan as a civilian I was attached to the 401st AFSB. Well I have never seen such a POS command in my life but anyway, There was a female MSG who was moved around in the command what seemed like every month or so because she was incompetant. She would get to work at 0900 after she worked out in the morning, then go eat breakfaast at 0930, come in for an hour or so and then go running, come back in time to go to lunch (which lasted an hour to an hour and a half, come back to the office for a couple hours and then go back to the gym, then dinner and then to her wet Chu. That was her day everyday. Guess what when she left she got a Bronze star. I was livid. I asked another guy in the office how in the hell did she get awarded a Bronze Star? The answer “Everyone E7 or above gets one in the 401st.” I said thats F*&%ed up. You got those Joes outside the wire putting their ass on the line and they don’t get jack Sh%t. Most of them careless and don’t need or want it.

  14. coldsteelscout

    December 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    This is all pretty sad. I too am a recipient of something i did not deserve but my E6 whom spent his first deployment in Kuwait wanted something to show for when he returned this time so he put us in for a CAB when our Convoy was hit by an IED. we were immobile (4 other IED’s around us) We did not engage in combat whatsoever- the only vehicles hit by the ied’s was a HET trailer and a KBR semi. Marine EOD blew the rest yet all of us recieved a CAB. BTW i was in the WA ARNG 2008-2009 OIF. Also, every convoy commander which were E6 and E7’s all got the bronze star for just doing their job even though we did lose one kid in a non combat rollover accident. I also received an ARCOM and Army achievement just for being in country. Handing out medals like candy makes them meaningless for the true and well deserved recipients. I could not wear them with honor knowing i did not receive them fairly so i did not wear them on my uniform except during uniform inspection.


    October 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    The Bronze Star Medal can be awarded for non-combat based on regulations. The Bronze Star for Combat reasons is NOT just an award of this medal with a ‘V’device !!! The Bronze Star can be awarded for Meritorious Service with respect and awarded to the soldiers that actually engage the enemy !!!! REGULATIONS STATE : TO BE AWARDED TO ANY SOLDIER WHILE SERVING IN ANY CAPACITY!!!!!!! THIS AWARD IS NOT A RANK ORIENTED MEDAL LIKE THE M.S.M. THE M.S.M. was created in 1969 for soldiers that had been stationed in the states that couldn’t go to Vietnam but were career soldiers that served honorably that were entitled to be recognized. I was a Vietnam Vet during that time and a lot of low ranking soldiers were coming home highly decorated while career soldiers with a large number of years in had nothing to show for their service time !!!!!!

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