William Astore on Nine Rows of Ribbons

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.

General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps
He may need a bigger chest for all those ribbons

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 wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

6 thoughts on “William Astore on Nine Rows of Ribbons”

    1. In Vietnam, the officer would give all his men an “impact award,” meaning all would get a Bronze Star, for instance. By rules, that officer got a Silver Star.

  1. Actually you are wrong about Patton. If you look at Patton and Eisenhower, they “usually” wore only 2 or 3 rows. This was not lost on my Drill Instructor Gordon Staples, who said we would always remember his name. He was highly decorated in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, being in the 1st Cav when it was overrun near Chosin. Showing humility was a sign of true soldier in 1970. In Vietnam I came back with two rows, not bad for a teenager. Today, these generals, who have yet to win a war, look like Third World dictators. They resemble Idi Amin, Gaddafi, and a host of others. America is becoming Third World, and nothing shows it more than our generals’ uniforms.

  2. My dad had a somewhat friend who took a helluva lotta hardware, he got machine-gunned across his abdomen but not the spine. In Korea of course, my dad came of age and enlisted legally right after that hot mess was turned down to a relative simmer. Not really a friendly sort. But he had the CMOH. He would keep one uniform truly filthy just for ‘dignitaries’ and of course Generals with the obligatory Unit Inspection. Air Force mind you. He would wear the nasty suit for those without any of the Good Conduct type frippery. Just the MOH. Because they could not do one damned thing about it.

  3. “When even the Marines fall prey..” a phrase which demonstrates an exceptional lack of insight. Nellers Nine rows are every bit as common among Marine leaders as the furiously furrowed veneer of his bullshit bristling bulldog facade. Forward Agressive posture my ass.

  4. Excellent points made!

    It is laughable the number of ribbons on these prima donnas-the next thing will be epulets, more gold braid on the hat, etc, ala the third world tin horn dictators who have never seen a day of combat or heard a round fired in anger.

    I have always been astonished at the current crop of generals-patreus being a prime example. I guess it started in Vietnam with the “gong show.”

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