30 Jan 2010 @ 4:27 PM 



The idea’s being kicked around… though probably not by anyone who is capable or motivated to make a change in the policy… but it has been heard by these ears plenty; and from plenty of people. Most of them have “been there, done that.” They have the little knickknacks on their apparel to show it. The idea itself is about the knickknacks; the badges.

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
~John Belushi

Oh, yes, we do. We really really do.

We have a little phenomenon in the Army called, “Badge-hunting.” Although mid-grade officers, very senior NCO’s and fobbits are most often accused of it, everyone wants their “stinking badges.” It affects how those who haven’t yet “gotten some” go about their business. They are looking for the fight that will earn them their combat badge, either the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge) or CAB (Combat Action Badge). Medics are less likely to go way out of their way to get their CMB (Combat Medical Badge), but if they earn it, they want it.

You have a tendency to find what you are looking for. Sometimes, it gets extreme.

In late 2007, a Police Mentor Team assigned to train and mentor the ANCOP (Afghan National Civil Order Police) were operating in Konduz for a brief period. Miles away from their accustomed stomping grounds, which to that point had been mostly in and around Kabul, and many kilometers from the nearest flagpole, the PMT were wrapping up their visit to Konduz and would soon return to Kabul. No one could predict where their next mission would take them, or when. They had spent months in the classrooms and training areas to that point. There had been no contact.

During a CONOP, there was a loud explosion near the convoy and a gunner opened fire with his M240 machine gun. Finally, there had been contact! Sworn statements were drawn up, and paperwork was submitted for the vaunted combat badges. Then the wheels came off the bus; an investigation ensued.

The attack, it was determined, had been faked. The gunner, an NCO, had thrown a hand grenade, announced that the convoy was under RPG attack, and opened fire with his turret weapon without a legitimate target.

Weeks later, the same team was sent to the Tagab Valley to replace the Tagab District ANP while they proceeded to Konduz for FDD (Focused District Development) training. The NCO who had thrown the grenade was not present. The ANCOP PMT was involved in several legitimate firefights with their ANCOP, all “qualifying” for the CIB/CAB. Irony.

While the above is an extreme case, it is an actual event. It is very likely not the only case of its type. A Soldier endangered lives, both military and civilian, in pursuit of a combat badge. While extreme cases are certainly rare, what about the less obvious badge hunts?

Do we really need Soldiers looking for their CIB or CAB? I submit that we need Soldiers who are attuned to their whole environment in the current fight… which often doesn’t require actual fighting as much as it does awareness of the other, more subtle signals of the environment… not Soldiers who are attuned more specifically to seeking the kinetic contact.

“Well,” one may say, “we do need Soldiers who are attuned enough to the actual fighting aspect so that they don’t leave themselves exposed to potential danger. We want aggressive Soldiers.”

Granted. However, once the Soldier knows that he has the badge qualifications, the Soldier has a tendency to do a couple of things. First, he realizes that getting shot at is not a picnic, and it’s not glorious. Many discover that, for instance, RPG’s suck. They become a bit more circumspect about seeking that fight. If their unit suffers losses, the bloom comes completely off the rose. Violent death and injuries are not adventure.

But a tremendous amount of damage can be done in that in-between time… the time between when unadorned Soldiers arrive in-country and the time that they are absolutely sure that they have qualified for their badge, the symbol that they, too, have “been there and done that.” If one were to accept that this can have a detrimental effect, the question becomes, “So what would alleviate that negative effect?”

Take a step back in time. In WW-II and Korea, for instance, an Infantryman (there was no such thing as a CAB at that time) had to be of a rank lower than Colonel and be an Infantryman in an Infantry unit in a combat line unit for thirty days… then they were all awarded their CIB. There was no requirement for sworn statements and determinations that the Soldier individually was exposed to a specific danger that would reasonably be expected to potentially cause him personal and immediate bodily harm or death. There were no awards boards considering CIB’s for each and every individual Soldier and officer. The rules have changed, and many of us who have seen what it does to a Soldier’s mind; or especially a leader’s mind, wonder if this is productive.

The recommendation is to go back to the old rules. If you are in a qualifying unit in a combat zone for the requisite period of time (or are wounded prior to that time) then you qualify. Take the pressure off. All you have to do is perform your job satisfactorily. When you are there, in a combat zone, you can be attacked at any time. Why is it a lottery? What is the purpose? Recognize that everyone risks it, and then take the pressure off of them to come up with a story to earn it with.

Tags Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Afghan National Police, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 30 Jan 2010 @ 04 30 PM


Responses to this post » (11 Total)

  1. elf says:

    Oh my. Being an iconoclast..I’d fundamentally change (destroy) the entire awards structure however…divorce it from rank and promotion points. We need to go back to rare, valorous, and deserved. Boards are proof we have too many people as overhead without enough to do – and it’s a garrison Army institution. Review by Senior Combat Commanders and CSM’s should be sufficient, and they should know WTF is happening in their units anyway.

    Yeah, the badge hunters are disconcerting. If someone wants to get a badge follow the adrenaline junkies. You’ll get all the badges and action you want, in my view legitimately. (I know. But I was one, and it wasn’t any badge as motive).

    I’m not sure we can compare Korea to our present situation – for which we may be grateful.

  2. Bouhammer says:

    Blue, I knew you and I think way too much alike. However I say take it up a notch. Since there are so many people that get to combat the first time and want to get some bling on their uniform and are willing to risk other (junior) soldier’s lives to do it I say give it to them day one.

    Yes it will cheapen the award, but for the most part those looking for badges are those looking for CABs. Prior to the (everyone get a trophy for playing) mindset of developing the CAB for those not in the Infantry or serving as combat medics, the other jobs in the army were not all that set on going looking for trouble. They knew they would automatically get their combat patch, campaign medals, and other auto-issued uniform bling. But since the CAB came on the stage and soldiers had to “qualify” for it, we have seen many a leader (and I use that term very loosely) take unnecessary risk and worse yet, risk other soldiers so they could get a CAB. When in was in A-stan, we called it a “CAB Safari” whenever those from the FOBs came down to our neck of the woods to ‘check up on things’.

    So rather than wait until the last month of a tour to go looking for trouble, I propose lining everyone up when the RIP/TOA ceremony happens and walking down the ranks and pinning CABs on everyone that gets one of those. For the Infantry and combat medics, don’t disrespect them. They will not wear anything until they earn it so let them earn it as part of the job they signed up for.

    Oh, and after they get done pinning these badges on everyone, be sure to tell them to take if off, because they are not authorized to be worn in country anyway.

    So lets not mess around, give them their combat patch, CAB, and other medals they will get automatically. That way all they have to do is go back to their office and work and hopefully do such a good job behind the desk that they can somehow twist that work into a end of the tour Bronze Star. That way they have something to work towards.

  3. elf says:

    Bouhammer & Blue,

    Or we go the other way. Rare, valourous, deserved (for bravery or valor) or it came with a wound. Trash the entire awards system – and divorce it from promotion points.

    Remember back when in Iraq when it was revealed the USAF in Iraq awarded more bronze stars then the USMC? I think it came out in 2007 and referred to 05 or 06 figures.

    Rather than give them away, toss the defunct system.

  4. defendUSA says:

    I was always envious of some badges…and I tried to earn a couple- non-combat.
    I will say that I know for myself, I would rather do the job right than risk someone else’s safety. I know those that would forget about safety to have the bling. Yikes. They can be scary stupid.
    I have been passed over for awards that, in my opinion were deserved (and all I got was a letter…haha). But, the bottom line is that I did my job to the best of my ability and I can live with that. I guess for some it validates what they do. Eh. Not if I have to wake up every day wondering if I did the right thing….

  5. Chuck Z says:


    Would you then be willing to award a CIB to everyone who does the job of an Infantryman in combat?

    As a tanker who has earned (although not authorized to wear) the EIB, and earned and can wear a CAB, I don’t think giving one to everybody is a good idea. That’s (supposedly) the purpose of a combat patch.

    I know many in the 11-series view the CAB a wanna-be CIB, but there are far too many who have served in Combat, doing the exact same missions, right alongside their Infantry brethren, risking the same, fighting the same, and dying the same, but somehow, their sacrifices aren’t “as worthy.” The CAB is meant to address that. Obviously, it too has been perverted by the badge hunters, just like the CIB.

    Ever wonder why there are senior officers and NCOs who look at your shoulder for a Ranger tab or the “right” combat patch when you first meet them? It’s because they think that is the true determination of what makes a soldier. These are the ones responsible for propagating the badge hunting mentality, and by extension, the practice of stealing valor in the civilian world. Too much is placed on what is on the shirt, rather than what is in the shirt. It’s one of the reasons I don’t wear any devices on my duty uniform. (That and the stupidity of pin-on with ACUs, but mostly that.)

    I am a damn good shot, with a pistol, rifle, SAW, 240, M203, .50, and 120mm. I know my tactics, strategery, and doctrine. I lead from the front. I’m calm and collected when in contact, even when bleeding out. (Hell, even when calling my own MEDEVAC.) I can carry my own weight and then some. There is no risk in combat that I’ve not taken if my soldiers were taking it too, and took some risks that I would only take alone. Do my efforts not count, because I did my OSUT and OBC at Fort Knox instead of Fort Benning? Does it not matter that I was leading an Infantry Platoon when I was wounded, taking and sharing in those same duties and responsibilities that they were? They all received CIBs for that combat action; by a function of MOS, I didn’t. In a combined arms fight, the segregation of the CIB as originally intended doesn’t wash. Maybe a simple Combat Ribbon would be the answer, per the USMC. Maybe taking all of the crap off of the combat uniform except for Name, rank, division patch, is the answer. I don’t look at a CIB as having any precedence over a CAB. Both are recognition for direct combat action, and anyone who submits themselves for one under my command who hadn’t actually earned one would be eviscerated. Unfortunately, there are those at all levels, E1 to O10, who always want more rows, more shiny stuff, more more more for their uniforms (likely to make up for other SHORTcomings.)

    I am not saying that I deserve (or want) a CIB. Just please don’t disparage the award I have earned. Sure, some people go looking for theirs, hunting for badges and putting others lives at risk. The majority don’t, and to say otherwise denigrates the honestly earned awards. Badge, tab, and patch hunting is always going to exist (how many types of jump wings are there?) as long as we recognize achievements and sacrifices.

    I know complete d-bags who have rows and rows of ribbons. SGT Dwight Johnson, a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam was killed when robbing a liquor store. Medals, badges, and other accouterments don’t magically make you into something else. They are simply recognition for, or of, sacrifice, valor, gallantry, merit, and sometimes just for being in a certain place at a certain time.

  6. elf says:

    Don’t worry about it, Defender. I gave most of mine away (and the AAR shite I threw in the trash more than once).

    You have the right attitude – do the right thing.

  7. "O" says:

    Hey Blue,

    Anyone can have my CIB. A two dollar piece of tin can’t take the “Oh no they DIINT” away.

    Badge Hunters simply put people in danger. I was fortunate enough to have a great Boss who backed me up when I said no to Strap Hangers in Tagab.

  8. J3 says:

    This is a fascinating discussion – haven’t been online much recently, due to the general suckitude of life, but I love this blog and give my respect to all here.
    A side note – ( I’m old enough to be a grandpa to a lot of the readers of this blog ) – back in the day, as they say, the idea of seeking out an engagement to receive any recognition was not very common, and among snipers / Scout Sniper teams, mutual engagement was the LAST thing anyone wanted… creep in, eliminate targets, creep out and hopefully never be seen at all, Sure, it didn’t always work out like that, but most guys also didn’t really want any recognition among their own buds. Because a reputation as a sniper of any skill was also a huge bullseye painted on a man’s forehead, as witness the unheard of bounty placed on Carlos Hathcock. And interestingly, that fine heroic and courageous man, who has my total admiration to this day, did not have the most confirmed kills in Nam. If you don’t know the name of the man who DID – well, that simply proves that he was able to accomplish the feat of being invisible.

    Thanks for all you do and have done.
    God bless you all and keep you safe. Semper Fi.

  9. Roz says:

    This is not just a US issue – I see similar threads with serving members across every nation.

    The big deal comes with the US because there are so many awards in your system. For a member to receive the Australian Infantry Combat Badge, you must be posted to an infantry unit, serving in combat capacity, for a qualifying time period. So tankers, medics etc on patrol all qualify. It keeps all on the same playing field abiding by the same rules.

    While I’d never personally create a situation to get an award, I’m happy with the few I have, knowing I earned them.

  10. Boots says:

    The two most horrific acts of Badge Hunting that I’ve seen were of a Maj. Holding a M-4 to a dead suicide bomber and claiming that “I have just earned my CAB!”, and the other was a 1Sgt. running up to a berm while a couple of shooters laying down some serious rounds, plopped himself next the shooters, well out of fire and while lying down grabbed his 9mm and shot a clip kind of in the direction of fire. He was getting his CAB two weeks later. Crazy.

  11. Judith says:

    John Belushi? It’s a quote from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart. Was Belushi even alive then?
    Still, point well taken–and expressed.

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