I’ll open this entry by warning any would be imposters who might want to use the information I am providing to portray themselves as special operations veterans. You do a huge disservice to those few service members who are and were members of SOF who have endured many hardships, not just in combat but personal, including a huge divorce rate, missing their children’s birthdays, going without food or sleep and not getting weekends off because they are training or serving in a hostile environment. There are many hardships Rangers, Seals, etc. endure and it’s not just bullets, mines or rockets. When you’re partying on New Year’s eve, they are humping a 85lb ruck over 20 miles at a 13 minute mile per hour pace while mosquitoes are all over the place after less than 4 hours of sleep navigating in the dark of the early morning over difficult terrain like mountains, jungles or the freezing artic. But often the challenges in their lives are personal, like time spent with their kids and takes a toll on them and their families. Respect that, respect their service and their dedication to their brothers in arms and our nation and rather than attempt to obtain accolades for something you aren’t, show your support by contributing to the Wounded Warriors program or volunteering at the USO. Not everyone can be a special operator but everyone can give something to their community, the military (such as care packages or letters) and the nation. The military is just one avenue to contribute to your country. All service is admirable, from picking up garbage on the highway to being a cook in the US Navy.
Also, it is not my intent to divulge individual operator’s identifies. All of the photos I am using are available from open public sources, so public affairs and the US military have approved the release of these pictures for public viewing.
Note the E-4 with the black beret sporting 13 ribbons
No ribbons for valor on this g
Generally speaking the air force awards it’s airmen more frequently than the other branches and the Marines award medals the least often. Combat arms tends to award medals less frequently than combat support and officers by far receive medals and awards more often than enlisted soldiers. Also, over the last 10 years, decorations and medals have not been awarded based on the criteria of the medal and are more often awarded based on rank than for action or merit.
Highest award BSM no V
When I was a private back in the 1980s, I lamented only having 1 ribbon and over time became resentful for not receiving awards for performance above and beyond that of my peers while others, often those in the rear and not out in the field, received an award or access to a school. I had left the military on a few occasions over the last 20 years, re-enlisting years later with huge breaks in service, only to find some things had changed and some things never change. Last year my entire company, including our 1st Sergeant laughed out loud, during a battalion formation as the battalion XO read the citation for an award to a staff member from another company who was given an achievement medal for 1 week of good driving.
I will be retiring in 5 years and I no longer pine or wish to have a uniform covered in ribbons.
But one thing I’ve noticed in the last 10 years is a preponderance of soldiers whose uniforms look like fruit salad on overkill but who’s awards don’t actually represent very much beyond service. It reminds me of a scene from the British sitcom Red Dwarf “what are those medals for?” “this medal is for 2 years long service, this is for 4 years long service, this is for 8 years long service”.
Rimmer from the British t.v. show Red Dwarf
One thing poseurs and wannabees have right, is the recognition received for the wear of decorations for valor, such as the Medal of Honor or silver star.
Note the Navy Seal badge and EOD badge on this wannabee pretending to be a decorated Marine
In the Army National Guard, there are “state” awards not recognized by the federal government for wear on active duty dress uniforms. I myself have one which I’ve never worn.
An example of state ribbons for national guard soldiers
Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze star without V device
The purple heart is awarded for wounds or injuries received as a result of the enemy that require a doctor’s care. A silver star is always awarded for valor. A bronze star can be awarded for valor or for merit. If it is for valor a bronze V is attached to the ribbon in the middle. The same for the commendation medal which also features a V on the ribbon if it is awarded for valor
But some individuals wear every possible ribbon, badge or medal they are entitled to.
For example these female officers have more ribbons than soldiers awarded the MoH for actions in Afghanistan.
Count the number of ribbons and examine each award. No combat decorations
Note her rack
First female general in Louisiana Army National Guard note highest medal and all the state awards
BSM no V
Ohio’s Army National Guard Adjutant General
1st cavalry division general
Bronze no V
Compare the number of ribbons in the photos above to these decorated veterans who’ve served in combat.
Captain Swenson being awarded the MoH
SSG Carter being awarded the MOH
SFC Petry receiving the MOH
SSG Giunta receiving the MOH
Most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor
MOH recipient with 6 ribbons and CIB
MOH recipient Captain Donlon with President Johnson, note only 4 ribbons
Note only 4 ribbons with the CIB
MOH recipient Col Howard has 12 ribbons 2 of which are a distinguished service cross and a silver star
Note the CIB and only 6 ribbons
The first thing veterans and service members who have served in combat arms will look for on a dress uniform is whether an individual has any decorations for valor. All other ribbons or medals are meaningless and therefore a big rack of ribbons is pointless in their eyes. So few service members are awarded medals for heroism that the government maintains a database for the public at http://valor.defense.gov/
The Distinguished Service Cross
In order of “high to low” to put it in civilian vernacular, the Medal of Honor is at the top while the Distinguished service medal which is a little known medal is the next award ranking below the MoH followed by the silver star, then the bronze star with V, then the air medal or commendation medals with V device if for valor. The Navy, Marines and Air Force have achievement medals for valor unlike the Army.
Silver star pinned on SGT Moynihan’s multicam uniform during award ceremony
Even in World War 2 combat veterans would often only wear their “combat decorations” and nothing else.
Maj Winters did not wear all ribbons and medals he was entitled to wear but note the DSC and BSM are worn
The most decorated soldier in Army history only wearing 7 ribbons including the Medal of Honor in this photo
The 2nd most decorated US Army soldier of WW2 wearing only 5 ribbons on his uniform
The army service ribbon aka the “gay pride” ribbon is in the bottom middle on PFC Manning’s uniform in this photo
So although I have not been awarded any decorations for valor, I wear fewer ribbons than I am entitled to wear (such as the Army training ribbon aka “gay pride” ribbon) and I no longer care about being awarded medals for non-combat related accomplishments such as the achievement medal or the meritorious service medal.
This is what the army achievement medal looks like
Achievement medal pinned on uniform of this PFC
Note the Meritorious Service Medal on the ACU
In the same way that WW2 Marines made the anchor and globe a respected and well known symbol combined with the slogan “every Marine is a rifleman” the idea of one symbol being all that matters on a uniform also occurs in the Army SOF units. The truth of the matter, is the USMC is not an elite force in the true definition of the term but it is a well trained organization that has promoted itself over the last 100 years, along with a record of accomplishments in our nation’s wars, so that it’s reputation has become a household world not just in the US but all over the world. For example, in Britain Marines are high esteemed.
Note the black anchor and globe
In SOF (known to the civilian public as Navy Seals, Rangers, Air Force pararescue and “green berets”) one expression you’ll hear in the Army from operators on the teams is “just the tabs”. Meaning they will not and do not wear jumpmaster wings, air assault badges or any, as the expression I once heard at Fort Lewis “bolo badges” on the front of their uniforms. May’be Halo badges or possibly combat diver badge being the rare exception
Note MSG O’Conner has no jump wings or any other badges on his ACU
The tabs are seen as a “gut check” and bolo badges like jump wings, air assault badge, etc. aren’t seen as especially challenging, especially these days as standards have lowered since the 1980s.
No badges on the commander of 3rd Special Forces Group’s commander
One guy in my SF company, who was longtabbed (special forces) with participation in Desert Storm, Panama’s Just Cause and OEF (Iraq) who had just returned from Pathfinder school remarked “some captain, had his family show up to the graduation ceremony, if pathfinder is the highlight of your career, you’re a loser”.
The Long and short tabs with the SF SSI
So you’ll see alot of SF guys who only have Special Forces (long tab) and Ranger (short tab) on their uniforms.
Note the lack of badges on his ACU
No badges just the ranger and special forces tabs on this SF soldier
One friend of mine from 5th Bn, 19th SF group, impressed me by rarely wearing anything on his uniform including the tabs and the “combat patch” when training non-SF units. He served on 2 tours in Iraq, made E-7 but was unable to complete the combat diver course. I was sad to hear of his departure from the military last year.
Note no jump wings or any badges on 1SG Elmore’s acu
There have been exceptions in the past, such as the famed WW2 tank commander, General Patton
But for the most part, the thing most quiet professionals will look for on a dress uniform is decorations for valor, possibly campaign stars or arrowhead on campaign ribbons and special operations “combat patches” on the class A or as they now are “metal identification badges” on the ASU. For the field uniform (BDU, ACU, Marpat, multicam, etc) it’s the tabs with the exception being the Halo badge or the mustard stain denoting a combat jump(s) and for the the Marine Corps the diver badge and USMC jump wings.
Space commandos in the movie The 5th Element
So may’be it’s time the US Army cuts back on covering the uniform in every possible way and puts more emphasis on the person wearing the uniform than trying to look like some 21st century Hollywood action hero written by people who haven’t served a day in the military let alone in combat.
Note the jump wings and diver badge on his MARPAT uniform