Combat Action Medal (Air Force)
 Combat Readiness Medal (Air Force)
 Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
 Nuclear Defense Operations Service Medal (Air Force)

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  Background Information
  • Combat Action?
One of the most persistent problems in the development of the medals and ribbons since the end of the Second World War has been the absence of clear rules or principles that govern what should (or should not) be established. The medals listed in this section are clear examples of medals that should never have been created. They may look good at first glance, but they add little of value to military culture and increase the confusion over the kinds of service for which medals are (or ought to be) awarded

One of the more recent awards is the Air Force Combat Action Medal. The Navy and Marine Corps had previously established a Combat Action Ribbon, which is a ribbon-only. Oddly enough, the Navy considers the Combat Action Ribbon to be a "personal decoration," although no medal is involved and it is actually awarded for performance in a combat zone. The Army followed by creating a Combat Action Badge, which is neither a ribbon nor a medal. Not surprisingly, it is awarded under a different set of rules than the Navy Combat Action Ribbon. The Air Force, bowing to pressure from within, established its Combat Action Medal but with different rules than either the Navy's Combat Action Ribbon or the Army's Combat Action Badge.

It would have been far better to acknowledge combat action service at the Department of Defense level with a single award and a single set of rules. The Department of Defense, however, has been extremely weak in asserting its authority in the area of medals and decorations, largely preferring to allow the Services to march to the own drummers. Perhaps the biggest roadblock has been the the Defense Department's insistence on complete agreement among the Service components when it comes to proposals for awards and decorations. This means that one Service, by non-concurring, can essentially torpedo efforts to standardize award policy. The Combat Action Medal is a good example of this problem.
  • Combat Readiness?
Another medal that should not exist is the Air Force's Combat Readiness Medal. This medal was originally established as a personal decoration but was later downgraded to a service medal. It was basically created to reward aircrews of the Strategic Air Command who flew demanding missions during the Cold War. At that time SAC kept a fleet of fully-armed bombers in the air around the clock to give them rapid response capability in the event of an attack by the Soviets. The Combat Readiness Medal was supposed to be a kind of combat crew commendation medal awarded for high levels of proficiency and readiness.

However, the Strategic Air Command was not the only component of the military that maintained a high degree of combat readiness; indeed, it could be argued that combat readiness is the basic job of the military! In any event, none of the other Service components established a comparable medal, and the Air Force Combat Readiness remains an isolated relic of the Cold War.
  • Outstanding Volunteers?
The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal was established in the final days in office of President George H.W. Bush. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1989, President Bush said, "I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in."

The military was encouraged to participate in this "thousand points of light," and at the end of his administration President Bush established the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal to recognize those who met this challenge. Oddly enough, as noble as his goal was President Bush failed to recognize that the role of the military is unique and part of that uniqueness is the degree to which it is self-contained. Serving the civilian community through good works is laudable, but not part of the military mission and probably should not be recognized by a military award. It would have been better if the Bush Administration had established a civil award for volunteerism and made the military eligible to receive (and wear) it.
  • Nuclear Deterrence?
In 2013, and extending into 2014, the Air Force had some embarrassing scandals. They began in December of 2013 when the two-star general who oversaw some of the nations nuclear weapons (and who was a command pilot) was fired for his drunken antics during an official trip to Moscow that summer. Then in January of 2014 it was reported that 34 Air Force officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles had cheated on proficiency tests. In May of 2014 the Air Force announced that it removed 17 officers assigned to watch over nuclear-tipped Minuteman missiles after finding safety and potential code protection violations.

The first missile combat crews consisted of aviators, but those who followed them had no aviation experience and were missileers from the start of their careers. The military, like society in general, has its own occupational status hierarchy. Pilots, especially fighter pilots, are at the top of the Air Force status hierarchy, but missile launch officers fall far below them. As might be expected, that has had an adverse impact on their morale. Adding to the problem, the increased emphasis on counterterrorism has added to low morale among the personnel who work with the countrys 450 nuclear missiles. As a result, missileers have increasingly come to believe they have little chance of advancement to the top ranks of the Air Force.

The Air Force announced in mid-2014 that it had suspended 92 officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, which was almost half of the nuclear launch crew there, in a cheating scandal. The Air Force acknowledged that there is a systemic problem in the culture of the team that is entrusted to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Apparently part of the solution to this morale problem has been to create the new Nuclear Deterrence Operations Medal. However, doing so is a poor substitute for effective leadership. To complicate matters, the medal is open to a relatively large array of personnel, which only waters down any potential positive impact it might have had. It follows an unfortunate trend in which occupational specialties have been acknowledge by service ribbons. This medal is, in effect, simply a solution in search of a problem.

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