This post is in recognition of the recent court decisions declaring the Stolen Valor Act to be unconstitutional.
I am not an Army Ranger, and I never have been.
Some of you will look at my “About Me” page and claim otherwise. After all, you can read it and see it. Right there, under awards and devices, it says “Ranger Tab” and the picture clearly shows a gold and black Ranger Tab affixed to my uniform.
That does not make me a Ranger. It makes me Ranger Qualified–showing that I completed the United States Army Ranger School (in 1997). Only members of the 75th Ranger Regiment (at Ft. Benning, Georgia; Ft. Lewis, Washington; or Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia) are actual Rangers.
I say this for two reasons. First, a lot of people ask me what it was like to be a Ranger. I try to explain the circumstances, but their eyes glaze-over after the first 30 seconds. Second, and more important, I want to address the rash of individuals pretending to be Rangers, SEALs, Green Berets, or having other specialized qualifications by wearing awards and devices they never earned. They are no different from those in Major League Baseball who use steroids. They want to be at the top of their profession. They don’t want to break the law, but the culture in the Army is such that they feel it necessary to do whatever they can to obtain an edge.
The military has always looked upon the wear of unauthorized insignia with a punitive eye. Listed within Article 134 in the Manual for Courts-Martial, the crime is, mainly, considered to be prejudicial to good order and discipline. In the last decade, the United States took a much harsher look at false claims of military achievement through the Stolen Valor Act. This set of laws made it illegal to make any false claim of receiving a military honor. Recently, a Federal Appellate Court declared this to be unconstitutional. Even with the constitutional debate over the act, it still demonstrates the dedication of our society and lawmakers to protect and preserve the positive accomplishments of our servicemembers. As a veteran, I appreciate the recognition, but I hate that it is an issue.
So, who are these guys who claim to be medal of honor winners, rangers, veterans of Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan. Well, some are true charlatans seeking to enrich themselves through fabricated claims of heroism and service. Others, however, are fairly ordinary guys who want nothing more but to gain some insurance that their years of hard work and dedication to the country is adequately compensated. Yet others merely want to feel that they are respected by their peers and subordinates.
I acknowledge that any act of wearing an unauthorized award is a conscious act that requires someone to decide to make a false representation about themselves. The true charlatans who commit these acts have an advanced pathology that requires harsh methods to correct, but I am not here to address this class of badge-wearers.
Instead, I want to focus on the guys and gals in the military who feel that they must increase the weight of their uniform in order to get promoted or garner respect.
Too many leaders in the Army pay attention to medals, badges, and tabs, and it creates an unhealthy command climate where servicemembers feel that they must misrepresent themselves in order to succeed. These leaders changed what once was a simple recognition for hard work and accomplishment into a right of passage, a career enhancer, and a way of gauging penis size. Mostly, it is the latter.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when a General selects his Aide-de-Camp. For those of you who do not know what an Aide-de-Camp is, this is a junior officer personally selected by a General to be their personal aide. It is a prestigious position, and it can be very career enhancing. After all, this junior officer gets to travel everywhere with the General, meeting all the muckity mucks the Army has to offer. The rank of the General determines the rank of the aide. For instance, a Brigadier General (1 star) gets a First Lieutenant, a Major General (2 star) gets a Captain, and so on.
I’ve seen many Aide-de-Camps. These aides shared one thing in common: lots of badges and scary stuff on their uniforms. They paraded their full uniforms proudly behind their general, while also holding his hat. This created a certain belief that, unless you had lots of scary badges on your uniform, you had no chance of being an Aide-de-Camp.
I point this out because I witnessed second-hand a general’s aide who perpetrated a fraud. He strutted around the headquarters wearing, among other things, a Navy SEAL badge and Freefall Parachutist Wings (both very rare qualifications). Somebody (I don’t know who) did some research and discovered he earned none of his rare badges. In fact, his true qualifications were rather ordinary and unremarkable. Why did he do this? Was he trying to blatantly break the law and harm the United States Army? Probably not. Was he trying to be remarkable, noteworthy, and apparently outstanding? Absolutely, yes. It worked for a while. He received a coveted position shared by only one other person in his military specialty. For a time, he was considered to be in the top 1% of his specialization.
At almost the same time, the command discovered a senior noncommissioned officer (specifically a Sergeant First Class (pay grade E-7)) who was erroneously wearing a Ranger Tab. He confessed to wearing this from the time he was a Specialist (pay grade E-4). This means he was promoted three times while wearing a badge he never earned. When asked about this, he confessed that he had an opportunity to attend Ranger School, but failed for some reason. When he arrived at his next assignment, rather than face the humiliation of answering 1000 questions regarding his failure to legitimately obtain a Ranger Tab, he decided to just arrive wearing one. Once he went down that rabbit hole, there was no going back. Worse yet, he was a Special Agent with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. This did not exempt him from wanting to be special. He wanted to be a cut above.
If the climate changes, so will the motivation for a vast majority of the individuals who may, in a moment of weakness, decide to wear something they didn’t earn. Granted, there will still be the small group of idiots who want to make a profit off of experiences they never had. Command climate will not influence the outlook of con artists.
I experienced firsthand the powerful effect of badge-hunting in the military. From the moment I chose to enter the Infantry as my first specialty in the Army, folks started talking about the necessity of earning a Ranger Tab. Reinforced daily, I almost suspected that it was all I needed to do to be successful. Then, I finally earned it. No sooner did I breathe a sigh of relief when someone then said “Well, now that you’ve earned that, you need to get your Expert Infantryman Badge.” After I earned the Expert Infantryman Badge, I was asked when I would get a combat patch… It was a never ending hell.
Even the new, blue Army Service Uniform (replacing the sexy, 70’s olive, polyester duds you see me wearing on my “About Me” page) was raped to accommodate those who hunger to display their full manliness for all to see. It went from this time-honored tradition (still showing a few pieces of flair, but not too much) to this monstrosity that only someone named Niedermeyer could love. All because somebody whined that they could not properly display their manliness.
An aside: I’ve always admired the Marines for their simplicity along with the fact that they do not get excited over badges, medals, and the like. They are Marines, and that’s all that is important. Schools, medals, deployments, and the like have no influence over the baseline fact that someone is a Marine. Lets hope badge fever never infiltrates their ranks.
The madness needs to stop. Poll most of society, and they could care less about badges, tabs, qualifications, and special do-dads. They see it from one perspective: a general gratitude for those who served. Whether they are a Green Beret, cook, diesel mechanic, or engineer, nobody cares about anything more than their honorable service to their country.
Those individuals are special and honored in our society because of who they are, not what they pretend to be. I ask that Army leaders do the same, because they bear some of the burden for their soldiers’ behavior. I hope I never again have client accused of wearing unauthorized badges or medals, but, to do this, the command climate needs to change.