- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

The Pentagon has relented somewhat to persistent requests from Senate Republicans who want timely notification of military medals for bravery in the war on terror so they can share the heroic achievements with the American people and counter negative press coverage.

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, has been working for more than a year to persuade the military branches to change policy and routinely make such notifications.

Mr. Santorum wrote to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Aug. 1 that more public awareness of commendations would “address the wave of negative stories coming from Iraq and Afghanistan concerning our ongoing military operations. The American people seldom hear about the acts of heroism, achievement and bravery carried out by American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, told The Washington Times yesterday that the Pentagon has just approved a policy that meets some of Mr. Santorum’s wishes. “The [Department of Defense’s] objective is to celebrate heroism, subject to a couple of constraints,” Mr. Carr said.

The Pentagon now will notify lawmakers of a person’s name, rank and address, as well as the award, but in just three categories: the Medal of Honor, the services’ individual crosses such as the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star. The military has awarded 400 of those medals for heroism in Afghanistan and Iraq, as of the spring. But Congress will not be informed of medals such as the Bronze Star or Purple Heart.

This is because the citations for the first three categories, reflecting the nation’s highest awards, are now routinely passed up from commanders to the Pentagon. The lower-category ones are not. Mr. Carr said the Pentagon did not want to place more reporting requirements on field commanders, who are overloaded with operations and paperwork.

If a lawmaker wants additional information on how a person earned one of the three top awards, the Pentagon would review the citation and delete any information that might help the enemy before forwarding it to Capitol Hill.

“The upside is to celebrate heroism, and that has a definite benefit for our society,” Mr. Carr said. “The downside would be that facts shared in celebrating would increase the likelihood of the person or family being targeted.”

The Santorum letter spurred the review. “It set the pace,” Mr. Carr said. “[Mr. Rumsfeld] took an active interest in it, and we knew of his interest, and that set the pace.”

Mr. Santorum a year ago won approval of a nonbinding sense of the Senate resolution in the defense authorization bill to urge the Pentagon to publicize awards via Congress. But the measure failed to remain in the final bill negotiated with the House. A Senate staffer said the military services objected.

This year, Mr. Santorum again won floor approval for his amendment in the 2007 defense authorization, which is pending in the House.

The staffer said House members and senators are routinely notified on the death of military personnel in the war, yet news about bravery and heroism is withheld.

“This amendment was crafted to spur the Department of Defense to share with members of Congress information on all the good things our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are doing in the fight against Islamic fascism,” Mr. Santorum said in his letter to Mr. Rumsfeld.

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