- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) — The Marine general who next week will take command of the Corps has removed three of his ribbons and awards because documentation can not be located to support them. At the same time, he has added five ribbons he was not previously wearing.

"I have the documentation, I just can't find it," Lt. Gen. Michael Hagee told reporters in a meeting Tuesday. "I am convinced I rate the awards … I've tried very hard to do the right thing."

"Until I get the documentation I don't intend to wear them," he said.

Hagee removed the ribbons of his own volition after he initiated a review of his awards last fall, when it was apparent he would be nominated the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

"I was the one who instigated the review. I am the one who decided to take them off," he said. "I should have been more aggressive. I should have done this earlier."

In 1996, then-chief of Naval operations, Adm. Mike Boorda, committed suicide after reporters determined that he was wearing combat valor ribbons he did not earn.

Hagee's situation is considerably different: one of the awards he took off was a ribbon given to all Marines of the 11th expeditionary unit who participated in a humanitarian relief operation in Somalia. Hagee commanded the unit but had not specifically registered his name as a participant as was required by the rules. He is addressing that, and will be contacting Central Command to rectify the situation for all the Marines that served under him who are in the same boat.

Two other awards are in contention: a Cross of Gallantry issued by the defunct Republic of Vietnam for combat service west of DaNang in 1970-1971, and a Navy Unit Commendation Award.

Hagee informed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of the ribbon change early Tuesday. Rumsfeld issued a statement of his support in the afternoon.

"I have complete confidence in him and look forward to having him assume his responsibility as commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday," Rumsfeld said.

The medal switch came to light Friday when Hagee had his official photograph taken for his change of command ceremony on Jan. 13. Someone leaked the photo — pointing out the missing awards and the five new ones — to Stars and Stripes, the overseas military newspaper.

Hagee said one of his first acts as commandant will be to help straighten out the antiquated award registration database, and to encourage Marines to periodically check their records to make sure their awards are listed correctly.

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