General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, is in the news since he told Marines to get ready for a big fight. This doesn’t really alarm me. A military exists to be ready to fight, and the Marines place a premium on combat readiness. No – what bothers me is the nine rows of ribbons General Neller is sporting on his uniform.
And compared to the other services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), the Marines are usually the most reluctant to hand out ribbons freely.
I wrote about this back in 2007: why medals and metrics in the U.S. military mislead. A big offender back then was General David Petraeus, whose uniform was festooned with ribbons and badges of all kinds, most of them of the “been there” rather than “done that” variety.
When I was an LT in the Air Force, circa 1987, I took part in a random survey in which I was asked, “What one change would you make to military practices,” or some such question. My answer was to get rid of all the “everyman” ribbons, the meaningless awards and medals that made a sergeant’s or captain’s uniform in 1987 look like that of General George Patton’s in 1945.
You can see how much my recommendation made a great impact on today’s military!
Seriously, though, our military is suffering from rampant grade inflation. We are giving ourselves far too many trophies. When even the Marines fall prey to ribbon and medal proliferation, it’s not a good sign for future combat effectiveness.
Military uniforms should not look like overdecorated Christmas trees.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.