With the Medal of Honor Convention about to kick off in Knoxville, I thought it was an appropriate topic for this week’s column. Rather than go on about the details of the event, I would like to talk about the meaning of individual awards in the military.
Through my own experience, and most of the recipients I have talked to that have received individual recognition, it is rarely about the individual. Almost always, the actions deserving of the award have their foundation in the supporting cast and/or the recipients’ dedication to the supporting cast.
Whether it be the Medal of Honor or a Navy Commendation Medal, no one in the military acts alone, ever.
Everyone in this generation of veterans made a conscious decision to become enlisted or commissioned into the armed forces during a time of conflict.
At the sake of sounding a little sentimental, nobody volunteers to risk their life in a combat zone on a selfish whim. Individual accolades are never the goal in the military, simply because the goal of the person’s unit and country trumps what any one person needs or wants.
Units love to put their troops up for awards because it makes them look better as a whole. A lot of them get approved, and many get denied. A common theme with the approved awards is the acceptance speech that follows.
Within that speech, I have never heard someone stand up and say, “Thanks everyone. I am awesome, and I did everything! I couldn’t have done this without myself!”
It inevitably includes a thank you to those the recipient works closely with and recognition to anyone who helped along the way. Of course, there are those awards the chain of command gives to the wrong person, and everyone is bitter about it. But even then, it would take a special kind of person to not give recognition in some form to the people who actually deserve it.
An award like the Medal of Honor is a household name. Recipients are recognized with events like the upcoming Medal of Honor Convention and hold a certain esteem in the eye of the public, all of which is deserved.
Anyone who has been to combat will vouch for this. Just because you are the biggest, strongest and fastest does not mean you won’t freeze up when bullets start heading down range. The most important attribute these recipients share is mental strength.
Because when it comes down to it, they stood up and had the skills and courage to do what needed to be done in that moment.
The funny thing is that most of the recipients of the Medal of Honor do not look at themselves any differently than the rest of the men and women in their unit. I interviewed Col. Joe Marm who received the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam, and he echoed that sentiment.
His response was that he wears the medal for the men he served with. So one of the men who received the highest military honor our country has, doesn’t take full credit for it.
Like I said before, much of the military language and lifestyle baffles the general public. But the Medal of Honor is something we can all understand. I recommend taking the upcoming convention as an opportunity to help yourself better understand the culture.
Most of the recipients that will be there are from past wars. But please do remember, there are thousands of military personnel this second that might find themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the right intentions, that could become the next Medal of Honor recipient. The next man or woman who will go “above and beyond the call of the duty” is already out there fighting.
Brandon is a senior in the College of Communications, majoring in Journalism and Electronic Media. He is finishing his last semester through distance education from Virginia Beach, Va.
Edited by Maggie Jones