Azimuth Check: Wow! That Person Has Medals!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several days now. They stem from a few choice headlines from the August 28 Early Bird (a daily digest of military-related news, published by the Military Times). Most days, I scroll through the headlines without seeing much of note. On that particular day, there were several headlines that caught my eye.

Where to begin…Compass

Pursue, Or Else

The former commanding general of US Army Japan will retire as a 1-star general after the Secretary of the Army determined that he did not satisfactorily perform in the rank of Major General (2-star).


“Maj. Gen. Harrison was investigated and disciplined for failing to properly address a sexual assault allegation in his command,” the release states.

OK. Got it. What this essentially means is that he probably received a letter of reprimand (placed in his official records) along with a bad performance report when he was relieved of his command under these circumstances. These matters were reviewed by the Grade Determination Review Board once he applied for retirement, and those findings were affirmed by the Secretary of the Army. It happens.

Here’s what is troubling to me: What constitutes “failing to properly address a sexual assault allegation?”

If the evidence, on its face, is absolutely clear, then that seems easy. However, most allegations are not that easy. My experience tells me that many allegations of sexual assault are accompanied by bad facts and evidence. Reasonable doubt is abundant, and to take the case to trial would be a waste of time and resources, not to mention the unnecessary and unfruitful stress and discomfort placed upon the complaining witness. Assuming that the complaining witness is, in fact, the victim of a sexual assault, prosecuting a case that is doomed to fail, based on the assessment of competent and experienced prosecutors, does more harm than good.

Here’s the problem with punishing, publicly, a leader for “failing to properly address a sexual assault allegation.” It will cause most to err on the side of prosecuting any and all allegations. The only people who benefit from this are defense attorneys who get to pad their stats. That’s already happening, as any military defense attorney will tell you.

Am I saying that the general was right? Nope. I don’t know all the facts, and, to my knowledge, no specifics of the alleged assault have been published. My problem is with the general principle and its foliow-on effects, which, in the end, don’t help actual victims or good order and discipline.

The Mystery of the 7-foot-tall Sergeant

Evidently, evaluation reports (the primary tool for determining whether sergeants are promoted) are being fudged a bit.

A recent promotion board tasked with examining the files of first sergeants and master sergeants came upon a stunning realization: Not only were senior NCOs gaining weight to an alarming degree, they were miraculously getting taller.

So either these senior noncommissioned officers had all experienced latent growth spurts, or there was some funny business going on with the height stats.

The promotion board concluded the latter, and issued a rare and candid smackdown in its after-action report.

Not only did the board call out the E-8 population for having “too many overweight soldiers in the zone of consideration,” but they also called for accountability of raters and senior raters tasked with filling out the NCO Evaluation Reports.

In its report, the board stressed that raters must correctly annotate soldiers’ height and weight data.

“As soldiers gain weight over time, they often, according to their NCOERs, grow in height” so they will be in compliance with Army’s weight control regulation, according to the Regular Army Sergeant Major Selection, Training and Promotion board that met in June. It was easy for the board to suss out potential cheaters by simply comparing the height in the NCOER with Enlisted Record Briefs and Academic Evaluation Reports.

They can’t be serious. So, what they are saying is that there is systematic lying, exaggerating, and puffery in evaluation reports?

I’m glad they realized something in 2014 that everyone else knew decades ago. Nice of them to catch-up with the general population.

As I stroll around various military installations in various places, I never cease to be amazed at the size of today’s soldiers, especially senior Noncommissioned Officers. In many cases, I had no idea that uniforms were made in sizes adequate enough to accommodate these hulking masses of redundant protoplasm.

Oh, and lest I be mistaken, I’m not talking about the gym rats whose pounds are comprised of muscles upon muscles. I’m talking about those who, when asked, state that they began to experience a gland problem after a recent trip to the Joint Readiness Training Center or whose treatment for PTSD involves the inhalation of 25,000 calories from carbohydrates every day.

Back to evaluation reports. The bottom line is that, as long as such reports exist, raters will seek ways to puff-up and protect those who they like. That’s just life.

Are You Serious? She Earned Medals?!

In a very tragic and sad story, a Sergeant First Class at Fort Lee, Virginia entered her place of work and killed herself with a firearm. This is sad. Absolutely tragic.

As with any horrifying tragedy, they are always followed with at least one stupendously ignorant Associated Press news article. For this one, the fine folks at AP were definitely on their toes with the following headline:

“Soldier who shot self at base had earned medals.”

Shocking. Shocking. Shocking.

Let’s dig deeper.

A soldier who barricaded herself in a building at a Virginia base and then fatally shot herself in the head earlier this week was a 33-year-old human resources specialist who had earned Army commendation and good conduct medals in the past, the Army said Wednesday.

OK, could they be a bit more specific?

The Army says her awards and decorations include three Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, one Joint Meritorious Unit Award and four Army Good Conduct Medals.

Let’s break this down.

First, the deceased NCO was a Sergeant First Class (SFC) with almost 14 years of service. This is important to know as we look at each of the medals.

Good Conduct Medal (GCM): If a soldier serves for 3 years without any adverse disciplinary action, they get a Good Conduct Medal. Given the fact that she was promoted to Sergeant First Class and has 4 GCMs, this means she behaved herself for at least 12 of her 14 years. Should anyone who earns a GCM be proud? Sure. However, it is not important or noteworthy to this tragedy. In fact, it merely makes her akin to most SFCs in the Army.

Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) and Army Achievement Medal (AAM). Most Soldiers earn one of these two awards every two years (on average). They are given when a soldier moves to a new duty station, changes duty assignments, and are occasionally given to recognize singularly commendable actions or events. So, most SFC’s have a handful of AAMs and 2 or 3 ARCOMs. Therefore, again, her having these medals is not noteworthy, significant, or illustrative of anything important related to the tragedy.

Joint Meritorious Unit Award. This means she was assigned to an Army unit when that particular unit was given this award for (usually) overseas service. Most individuals who have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan have been assigned to units given this (or one of the other) unit awards. She served overseas, as is the case with, arguably, a majority of SFCs in the Army. So, knowing my conclusions from the first two sets of medals, you know what I’m going to say about this one.

Am I trying to take away from this tragedy or her career as a Noncommissioned Officer? No. It is horrible and sad, and she certainly accomplished good things during her career. However, it is shameful that the AP is making people dumber with such insipid, irrelevant articles. They should just amend the headline to say:

“Soldier who shot self at base was known for wearing an Army uniform, occasionally.”

Stop AP. Just stop.



One thought on “Azimuth Check: Wow! That Person Has Medals!

  1. I spent a summer at Fort Leonard Wood. I had concerns going into the experience that I was going to be out of shape compared to everyone else – and it turned out I had nothing to worry about. I had no problem holding my own at PT. I was surprised by the number of out of shape soldiers there were on post and I thought it was funny to learn that the whole unit went on a diet the month before their physicals.

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