WASHINGTON — The results of the Pentagon’s review of military awards to be announced Thursday could see large numbers of decorated Iraq and Afghanistan vets upgraded to Medals of Honor, according to defense officials.
The military is examining over 1,000 medals given since the attacks of September 11, 2001, as part of its review to determine whether the actions that led to those awards were actually deserving of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for combat valor.
The first seven Medals of Honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were awarded posthumously, but the Defense Department clarified what constituted the “risk of life” criteria to receive the award in 2010. All 10 recipients of the award since then have been living, and three of those cases were subsequently upgraded from a service cross, the second highest award.
The review was initiated by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014 to improve the military awards system to make sure the Pentagon was appropriately recognizing service members for their actions.
One issue for review is that there might have been a misconception of what merited the Medal of Honor, given that the medals awarded in the early years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were only posthumous.
“There is no indication that any service members were not recognized appropriately, but the purpose of this is to ensure that those service members who performed valorously were recognized at the appropriate level,” a defense official said.
The review recommended no change to the criteria used in the awarding of the Medal of Honor, officials said, and did not look at any specific past cases in making the recommendations.
In addition, the review seeks to shorten the timeline of the review process for the Medal of Honor “while preserving its legacy and ensuring a strict review process,” the official said, while also standardizing the meaning and use of “valor” — which the military considers the most preeminent form of military decoration — to ensure there is no ambiguity in its definition.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will review the recommendations for approval.
The Pentagon will also create a new “C” designation that can be affixed to certain performance awards to distinguish those awards earned in combat conditions. The Pentagon will do so to elevate the prestige of actions incurred under specific hostile conditions beyond being deployed to a combat zone.
And as the military employs the use of drones on a more regular basis, the military will create an “R” designation that can be attached to certain non-combat performance awards to single out those drone operators who had a remote but direct impact on combat operations overseas.
There was no recommendation to change any criteria for the awarding of the Purple Heart.
The 18-month review took into account the input of various veteran support groups, military service organizations and officers who commanded units in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also based on 37 focus groups with combat veterans from across the country, which solicited concerns and issues with the military awards system.