Monday, March 11, 2013

The Fraternal Order of Them What Has Been Shot At

Where the DWM will rank in the USAF order of precedence.
Thanks to movies, television shows and other media that have taken a much fairer look at the military since 1991, people who have never spent a day in BDUs have some familiarity with military culture and language. Steven Spielberg, courtesy of Saving Private Ryan, even resurrected an acronym from the ancient trivia of World War II — FUBAR (F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition or Repair) — that enjoyed some currency for awhile. SNAFU (Situation Normal: All F***ed Up) has been in common use so long that it's spelled in minuscule letters like any other noun.

Let me introduce you to an acronym that's cropped up quite a bit recently: REMF. The RE stands for "rear echelon"; the MF shall not be decoded in this blog even with asterisks — suffice it to say that it's a foul name suggesting the person acts on his Oedipal fantasies. The acronym has come up quite a bit in reference to the Distinguished Warfare Medal, an award recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense for "drone pilots and cyber warfare specialists whose actions have a direct impact on combat operations", as reported by Bryant Jordan of

Technically, "rear echelon" refers to the non-combatant elements of the military; that is, the administrative and supply units. By extension, it refers to units that don't routinely take hostile fire, no matter how important they are to the total war effort.

At least, that's how front-line troops see it. 

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who spent plenty of time with combat-arms troops while drawing for Stars and Stripes in Europe during WWII, humorously noted that combat infantrymen consider anything behind their foxholes to be "rear echelon" ... especially if it has the word "headquarters" anywhere in its name. And when Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury made fun of the supposedly cushy shipboard life of the Navy during Desert Shield/Storm, it resonated with many "boots on the ground" soldiers and Marines living in hot, dusty tents. 

Once you set interservice rivalry aside, though, the members of what Mauldin called "the Fraternal Order of Them What Has Been Shot At" is usually very good at recognizing and supporting other members regardless of branch or country ... even former enemies. And such is the military culture that most people in non-combat specialties sympathize with them; they realize their function is to support the people who fight, which is a praiseworthy and crucial task but — how do I say this without being unfair or disparaging? — not as much of a risk.

The military community doesn't object to the DWM as such. Drone pilots and cyber-warriors do make contributions to the total effort, and those contributions should be recognized. No, what they object to is the order of precedence given to it: As SECDEF Chuck Hagel, of whom as a Nebraskan I'm sorely disappointed, has recently confirmed, the DWM will take precedence over the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

The military takes its medals and ribbons seriously. They're not just costume jewelry; if you look at a soldier's "fruit salad" (the ribbons worn on his class-A uniform), you can tell where he's been and (generally) what kind of service he's rendered. As such, medals which speak of risks and wounds taken for the cause are more admired and respected than awards which merely speak of competence at one's job or presence in a theater of operations.

The Purple Heart, for instance, is the minimum award you can get for losing your leg to an IED or getting a bullet in your head from a terrorist with an AK-47. The wound doesn't have to be critical, and the weapon doesn't have to be aimed at you; there have been people who have earned higher awards without earning a PH. Nevertheless, the PH, which is the oldest of American service awards, is most often earned by people directly participating in combat operations as combatants. The Bronze Star is given to those who go beyond the expected, who take greater risks to do things that assure the success of missions.

The DWM will be awarded to honor individuals for single acts of extraordinary achievement, not involving acts of valor, that directly impact combat or other military operations approved by the secretary of defense.
Unlike other combat-related medals, service members may be awarded the DWM for actions completed from either in or outside an actual combat zone.
The action must include hands-on employment of a weapons system, including remotely controlled assets, or any other activity, in any domain, that had a direct and immediate on-site effect on an engagement or operation against a target. ...
The criteria needed to be considered for the medal requires that the extraordinary achievement must result in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from comrades or others in similar situations. The approval chain sets the bar high as to what meets the criteria [bold font mine.—TL].

The standards are for the most part vague even when compared to other medals' criteria. But the sticking point is that the act must not involve personal bravery or courage; in fact, the AFNS release specifically states, "Actions involving valor should be considered for other decorations."

"Why does it have to be a new medal?" asks Nick McDowall of the Orders and Medals Society of America. "The problem is that we're adding another non-valor personal decoration into a system that is already crowded with non-valor personal decorations," he explains. "The ultimate consequence is that it will diminish the prestige of the valor decorations. Nobody wants that, but that is basically what happens."

Needless to say, members of the military community are livid:

redprincess: If I were a drone operator, I would be ashamed to wear this medal as long as it is ranked above those earned in actual combat!!!!! hagel has done a diservice to Drone operators and a bigger diservice to those who have been awarded the Bronze Star and/or the Purple Heart. I have the utmost respect for Drone Operators and the role they play, but; the rank placement of this medal is unacceptable!!!
Jose Ventura: What a joke a medal for flying an R.C. plane I understand the need for recognition why not a ribbon like the Corps CAR a badge like the Army CIBCAB but a medal after the Flying Cross before the Silver Star. I'm used to getting people spitting in the faces of service members but not a branch of the military doing it.
shark60: You can take my BS for Valor, My two bronze stars for meritorious service in a combat zone, My three Air medals with V device and my 17 for Combat assault missions, My Purple Heart, and throw in my DFC to melt down to make a REMF medal that will be treated with contempt by all those who have faced the tiger and survived.
Tanks35: REMF's get a medal higher than the Bronze Star/V and Purple Heart ! ! ! I never thought I would see the day that could happen. I will be the last member of my family to wear any military uniform ! ! ! My ONLY son aged 13 will never be allowed to join while I live and can still swing a golf club ! ! !

And that's where the true meaning of "REMF" comes in. The REMF isn't simply a non-combatant; he's a non-combatant who takes from combatants.

If a theater of ops includes a popular vacation town, the REMFs take over the best hotels and resorts, leaving the second- and third-class hotels and pensiones to the grunts and aircrew. If logistics is delivering warm winter clothing, the REMFs grab theirs first, often leaving the front-line units short. In WWII, when the Army was still issuing free cigarettes to soldiers, the REMFs would grab the cartons of Lucky Strikes and Camels, leaving the Pall Malls and Chesterfields to go out to the field units. When units come off the front line back to base dirty, disheveled and stumbling over each other from weariness, be assured some REMF military policeman will fine them for being disorderly and out of uniform.

Sometimes it's all a matter of degrees. The room the REMF has taken over may be four bare walls and a cot with a wafer-thin mattress, but to the doggie he's denied, it's as good as the Ritz Carlton compared to where he's been spending his nights. The Bronze Star and DWM may cost roughly the same to manufacture, but by no means do they cost their recipients the same to earn.

In a way, this all may be unfair to the Predator pilots and cyber-warriors, because I don't know for a fact that they especially wanted this medal or in this order of precedence. Hell, for all I know they're embarrassed by this totally FUBAR decision. Nevertheless, there it is, and anyone who gets awarded it will have to have some intestinal fortitude to wear it wherever people with combat MOSs happens to be.

On Feb. 26, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced 113 HR 833, which if enacted will force the precedence of the DWM below that of the Purple Heart; as of this writing it has 41 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee. There it will die ... unless you, sir madam or small child, take up your quill and write to your congresspersons to advocate for its passage into law.

Medals may seem silly to some people. To those who have "seen the elephant", it's often the only tangible sign that their country appreciates the risks they took and the privations they went through ... little pieces of cloth and metal that cost less to manufacture than an iPad, but which they will hand down to their children and grandchildren like the most costly jewels and precious heirlooms.

Little symbols of the Fraternal Order of Them What Has Been Shot At.