We often hear how current United States involvement in the Iraq war varies so much from past military ventures, and a new approach to honors and decorations for combatants further emphasizes those changes.
The Washington Post points out that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not only have changed the methods American troops must use to fight insurgency but have also caused U.S. services to change the way they honor troops fighting on the capricious and hazardous battlefields. The Marine Corps this year has changed rules determining who is eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon. That is an honor that once required troops to both receive and return fire against an enemy. The deadliest and most effective terrorist weapon in Iraq has been the roadside bomb. Officials now say the Combat Action Ribbon should go to anyone who has been exposed to the detonation of such bombs.
Time was when there were "fronts" in wartime. The helter-skelter nature of today's Middle East engagements has drastically changed all that. Time was when women in the armed forces were prevented from going to a front. They are just as vulnerable under the insurgent situation as people supposedly "behind the lines." Decorations for them also are being studied.
"Prior to this, a service member had to be involved in a combat firefight to qualify (for the ribbon)," says Lt. Col. Jim Taylor, acting head of the Marine Corps military awards branch. "There was a lot of soul-searching over that, especially with the nature of the conflict in Iraq."
There has been a review of cases where the Combat Action Ribbon was denied during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the process is under way to rectify that situation. The CAR has a series of colored bands, beginning with one wide blue and one wide yellow band; a set of narrow red, white and blue bands; another wide yellow band; and a wide red band.
It is, indeed, a badge of courage and it should go to virtually anyone directly involved in the treacherous activity our people encounter daily.
"The evolving nature of warfare demands that we constantly review policies," said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
That's the least the nation can do to make sure those who put their lives on the line get at least a ribbon signifying their courage and willingness to sacrifice.