Army to Issue Combat Badge For Soldiers Not in Infantry
Any Army soldier who has seen active combat while in Iraq or Afghanistan may now receive a new “Combat Action Badge,” making tens of thousands of soldiers who are not in the infantry ranks — including women — eligible for a combat award for the first time. The new award, which the Army announced yesterday, means that the thousands of soldiers who are exposed to enemy action but are not officially in combat roles can earn a prestigious badge for being involved in the fight. Army officials said the badge was designed to honor soldiers such as military police, truck drivers and fuel specialists who face perilous situations while doing their jobs in the ongoing wars. “It recognizes that in the current realities of the battlefield, an insurgency, any soldier could be subject to a combat situation,” said Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman. “It’s going to be a tremendous morale booster to soldiers.”
The Army has not designed or chosen colors for the badge, which would be worn above the left pocket of a soldier’s dress uniform. The badges should begin appearing in military clothing stores by the end of the summer. The badge is the first non-medical combat distinction to honor women who are caught in battle during U.S. wars, largely because women are not assigned to frontline combat duties. The war in Iraq has demonstrated that any soldier — from a cook to a driver to an infantryman — can be exposed to insurgent attacks, and the Army is seeking to honor anyone who “is personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy.”
Curtin said the award is retroactive to Sept. 18, 2001, the date President Bush authorized the wars against terrorism, and applies to all soldiers around the world who are assigned to an area where hostile fire pay or imminent danger pay is authorized, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army issued a press release today saying that it has decided to authorize a new “Combat Action Badge” for all soldiers, regardless of occupation or unit type, who engage in direct combat with the enemy. I wrote on this two weeks ago when the Army was considering the adoption of a “Close Combat Badge“, which would be awarded only to those soldiers in specific combat arms occupations who saw combat. My argument was that the Army should adopt a functional approach to awarding this badge — and award it to those soldiers who actually saw ground combat, regardless of unit-type or MOS. I even suggested that the badge be awarded not on a blanket basis, but on a certification basis by an O-6 or O-8 commander.
The press release makes this distinction clear: “Although the Close Combat Badge was once considered an option, Army leadership created the CAB instead to recognize all Soldiers who are in combat. ” Unfortunately, they did not go as far as I had hoped, “The CAB is distinct from other combat badges, officials said. The Combat InfantrymanÃ¢€™s Badge, or CIB, and Combat Medical Badge will remain unchanged, they said.”
As I explained in February:
I would argue, however, that the creation of a third badge is the wrong approach. If the Army is now going to recognize, as its doctrine has for a generation, that the idea of “front lines” is outmoded, then in makes no sense to differentiate between soldiers serving in close combat. Indeed, the CIB has become tainted in the post-Vietnam period, with 11B soldiers who never fired a shot, let alone had one fired at them, getting a CIB simply because they were in theater.
The solution would be to eliminate the CIB and CMB entirely, replacing it with the CCB for all soldiers regardless of MOS and then awarding it based on actual participation in direct combat with the enemy rather than simply being in theater while assigned to a particular unit type. Doing this would both remove the perception that CCB recipients are second-class soldiers while simultaneously restoring the luster of a once-hallowed award.
While I recognize that Infantrymen do a distinct job, the whole point of the CAB is to recognize that hostile fire is hostile fire. Now, if the CAB is going to be awarded to everyone who just happens to be in theater, it is going to be redundant. Soldiers already wear the unit patch of one’s wartime unit on their right shoulder as a “combat patch” and receive service medals indicating that they were in theater. One hopes the CAB will distinguish those who actually engaged in combat.