April 19, 2008

GROKING RIBBONS

Any soldier worth his salt doesn't get wrapped up in ribbons and accolades. I learned that long ago, when I saw medals thrown haphazardly in a foot locker. And I took notice when a guy from my husband's armor unit showed up at his new finance unit and tossed my husband's OIF medals on a desk for him. Finance wanted to have a big ceremony for my husband; armor knew the medals were an afterthought. The men who earned the medals, they knew that the pride came in the work they had done, not the bits of ribbons they received for it months later.

Soldiers wear their uniforms with pride, making sure that everything is proper and in its place. But rarely do they care which ribbons they wear. In fact, I was appalled recently to overhear one soldier belittle another for his paltry chest collection, because I had never heard anything so vulgar in my life. I had never before seen anyone point to his hardware as "proof" he was better than someone else. (But this soldier proves himself a douchebag, time and time again.)

Remember when Mr. Miagi said that karate was in your head and your heart, but never in your belt? Real soldiers think the same thing about their ribbons.

And over the past few days, I have read a couple of slams on GEN Petraeus for wearing a chest-load of commendations when he testified before congress. Badger6 is right that the people who write these columns have no idea what they're talking about. It's not like Petraeus can simply decide not to wear parts of his uniform for fear of intimidating the public. Oh gosh, better leave a couple of these stars off my shoulder, lest someone think I'm trying to show off with four of them. I guess two of them will do for today; I'll leave the other two at home.

Badger6 is dismayed that a wine critic somehow got paid to write an opinion column about Petraeus' hardware. Me too. Because it seems obvious that this fella has never even met anyone who has ever been awarded a medal:

In more contemporary times, decorations have suffered a fraught reputation among the rank and file: nice to get but awkward to display if the memories associated with them are of violence, loss and the ineptness of commanders. There have been isolated incidents of Iraq war veterans returning their medals, and, of course, Vietnam War vets were better acquainted with this kind of protest.

Oh yes, the only reason for medals is so you can throw them on the White House lawn. I forgot. Silly me.

Cassandra found another piece griping about Petraeus' uniform. (You really must read her entire post: A Suspension of Contempt.) She says this:

Challenge the good General on his testimony. Challenge him on the facts if you wish. But check the ad hominems at the door. Just because he wears the uniform of the day doesn't give you carte blanche to take cheap potshots at medals that commemorate battles where better men than you will ever be have fought and died for ideals they believed were worth fighting for, even if you do not.

Petraeus doesn't wear those ribbons because he thinks he's better than everyone else. He wears them because they're a part of his uniform. And I bet if you asked him about them, he'd be humble and dismissive.

Go on, critics, ask him which ribbons he got for getting shot in the chest and breaking his pelvis. None.

It took me a couple of years of being in the Army community before I really grokked ribbons. I should've learned the lesson from watching The Karate Kid for the umpteenth time, but it took a while for it to really sink in. It took seeing real heroes brush off praise over the medals they did receive -- heroes like Neil and my husband -- and seeing those precious awards being treated like the hunks of metal that they are for me to truly get it.

I'm not surprised that some wine critic doesn't grok.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:54 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 unfortunately, too many Americans don't grok. At all. I thought General Pace's actions after leaving the Joint Chiefs explained it best: http://excaliburrd.com/cs/blogs/excalibur/archive /2007/10/17/general-pace-retires-remember- s-his-troops-killed-in-vietnam.aspx

Posted by: airforcewife at April 19, 2008 05:39 AM (mIbWn)

2 It's so funny that you should write about this today. Just the other day, I was going through some items that C had stuffed into a box in the dresser. Inside, I found everything from loose change to a couple of chains that had gotten tangled up and in the mess were some medals and a couple of coins he had gotten from a couple of generals. I fished the coins and medals out and said something like, "Don't you want to keep these in a safer place?" and his response was, "Yeah, do whatever." And to think that I have every award I've ever gotten (not too many)either framed or carefully packed with that acid free paper....lol.

Posted by: Nicole at April 19, 2008 09:04 AM (sBJ2p)

3 Thanks for another great post. I think there's one other element that you gloss over a bit as to why soldiers brush aside medals, particularly valorous ones. Most of them really look at it as "just doing my job." I think there's a line of thought in that that says, "How could I have done other than what I did in that situation?" And some also brush them aside because they hate what they had to do that led to receiving it, even though they believe they did the right thing. I have a friend who absolutely refuses to tell me why he won a rather impressive medal--says, "I did a job that had to be done, took out a threat. Period. I will not talk about it." And then there are the issues of medals that are the equivalent of "good job pushing that paper," which generals have usually collected in great number on their way up the ladder. That is something these "critics" also don't get at all.

Posted by: FbL at April 19, 2008 11:23 AM (rW1/8)

4 What a great post. I love Mr. Miagi!

Posted by: Tonya at April 22, 2008 07:48 AM (KV0YP)

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