By J.E. McCollough Entering the private sector after military service is rarely...
Bronze Star or Bust
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.
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a war movie junkie, but I can’t resist this type of action captured on film, especially when there’s some authentic historical content and true heroism being portrayed.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…