- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Don’t devalue military medals

Having just retired from the Oklahoma Air National Guard and served in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, I read Lt. Gen. Roger Brady’s comments with dismay (“A fair military medals policy,” Letters, Sunday).

He clearly does not get what those medals represent. As a captain stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq, I saw the generals come and go on their tours and wondered when one would stay for a while to see what it was like to live on the base.

My job was to coordinate the movement of wounded out of Iraq and ensure aeromedical evacuation crews were available for the job. We had a lot of contact with those who feared coming downrange to our “home” because it was unsafe.

We lived in Iraq, slept in Iraq, ate in Iraq, took our showers in Iraq and talked to our families on the phone from Iraq. We spent four months on the ground doing the same thing everyday.

No vacations, either, because you couldn’t leave the base because of the threat of being shot or blown up. We woke up to the sound of mortar impacts and wore 40 pounds of personal protective equipment every other day.

Is Lt. Gen. Brady honestly comparing planning operations in Iraq from the security of an office in Virginia as being the same as living in Iraq and carrying out those plans? Flying aircraft by remote control from Las Vegas as being the same as airmen, soldiers or Marines serving on some intersection in Tal Afar or Baghdad and waiting for the next improvised explosive device to go off?

Those medals represent service in the country. I spent December 2001 through April 2002 moving wounded through Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, but I can’t wear the Afghan Campaign Medal because I wasn’t in the country. I went to Afghanistan for two days to provide equipment for my fellow air-evac folks, but that’s not enough to compare with those who lived there. I’m fine with this and received my Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and pinned it to my chest. I’m happy with it, so why should the airman in the office providing lethal air strikes by remote control not be happy with the Global War on Terrorism Medal? Again, they get to go home every night to a safe, soft bed, and they can take vacations. Please don’t devalue our campaign medals.

To the Army soldiers and Marines who read his letter and giggled at his comments, I can only say that not everyone shares his lose interpretation of what merits a medal.

PHILIP SANDELL

Oklahoma City, Okla.

Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady’s response to the Jan. 14 Page One article “Mettle merits medals” raises some excellent points and underscores the urgent need for a carefully constructed policy on military medals and decorations — but not quite for the reasons he asserts (“A fair military medals policy,” Letters, Sunday). Lt. Gen. Brady is correct in noting that modern warfare is no longer just about “boots on the ground.” However, he misses the distinction between process and outcome. His error is part of a long-standing chain of events that began in the early years of the 20th century.

The first campaign medals were established by the Army in 1905 for veterans of the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection and Boxer Rebellion. Three years later, the Navy established its own campaign medals, and although they were for the same military actions (excluding the Indian Wars), they were of different design. Between 1905 and the outbreak of World War II, the Army added five more medals and the Navy added another 15 distinctive campaign or service medals.

The campaign medals for World War II were the same for all services, and since the war, most (but not all) of the 19 new campaign and service medals have been “common” to all services. We are engaged in military operations around the globe, with particular emphasis on Afghanistan and Iraq. If I read Lt. Gen. Brady right, he would like to use those campaign medals to acknowledge service that impacts the war but involves Air Force members who perform their duties outside the operational theaters.

I am afraid Lt. Gen. Brady fails to appreciate that service members who perform their duties outside the operational area (to include within the United States) already receive service medals for their work: the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Should those folks get the same medals as the service member who has boots on the ground? I don’t think so. Campaign medals historically have been awarded to recipients who assume physical risk and personal hardship by serving within the operational theater. The purpose of the medal is not and should not be for the outcome of those operations, but for what the recipients go through in the process.

The real problem is that neither the Department of Defense nor the individual service branches have articulated a clear set of “first principles” to guide the use of campaign and service medals. As a result, the proliferation of these medals in the decades since World War II has consistently been in the direction of watering them down and liberalizing their application. The result is sad: We have too many medals that mean too little. The Department of Defense is in the process of reviewing this subject, and I hope the final decision-makers have the integrity and courage to make the tough calls and to set standards that give real recognition where and how it is deserved. Our troops deserve nothing less.

CHARLES P. MCDOWELL

Reva, Va.

Terms of endearment

Sen. Sam Brownback thinks lofty language against abortion will somehow endear him to Republican conservatives (“Defend innocent life,” Op-Ed, Monday).

A check of Mr. Brownback’s Web page shows a multitude of feel-good, rubber-chicken-circuit speechifying, with not a word about the illegal-alien invasion and the Republican response to amnesty and welfare for lawbreakers.

If Mr. Brownback thinks generalizations on his Web site about the need for homeland security do not entail addressing the violence and chaos at the U.S. southern border or offering specific remedies for the billions of dollars in yearly costs from the invasion, he is either delusional or dumb.

His site does not address the result of millions of illegals overrunning U.S. borders: rampant Social Security number fraud and identity theft, prisons packed with illegal alien criminals, massive shutdowns of hospital emergency rooms that must provide free care to illegals, bankrupted school systems and open season on law-enforcement officers by aliens who freely recross U.S. borders after deportation.

Amid all the political cliches on his Web site, he also offers a Spanish-language version of his bloviating. What irony from a man who would be president.

CAROLINE MIRANDA

North Hollywood, Calif.

Tax cuts

In “Looking high and low for taxes,” (Commentary, Sunday) Alan Reynolds stated, “The Tax Policy Center estimated that extending the 10 percent tax bracket for $43 billion a year would do nothing for the poorest fifth, save $15 a year for the second fifth, $38 for the middle fifth and $83 for the richest one-tenth of 1 percent.” In fact, the numbers cited apply only to the 2003 increase in the amount of income subject to the low rate, not to the entire value of the 10 percent rate.

The actual benefit of the 10 percent break is much, much larger. For example, couples pay a 10 percent rate on the first $15,100 of taxable income (in 2006) rather than the 15 percent rate under pre-2001 law. That is worth $755 for couples with incomes at least that high.

Overall, we estimate that taxpayers in the middle fifth of the income distribution would gain an average of $414, and those in the top one-tenth of 1 percent would gain $621. The average taxpayer would get an additional $391 in after-tax income, a number more in line with the $43 billion revenue cost.

ROBERTON WILLIAMS

Principal research associate

Tax Policy Center

Urban Institute

Washington

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