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.

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.

Petraeus with Broadwell
Petraeus: 10 rows of ribbons, plus a bonus row

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!

How did General Marshall win World War II with so few ribbons?

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!

11 thoughts on “Nine Rows of Ribbons!

  1. Well, I let people know that I am a small arms marksman, according to the ribbon I have which is listed on DD-214. Then I smile and tell them it comes with an asterisk. The story: I had a TDY job in the Air Force (Geodetic Surveyor) and on one of my down times (1970 or 71, not sure) between TDY’s I was told I had to qualify on the range the next day, as they finally got to me when I was on the home base. So, the next morning I head to the base range (F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wy) with a kid from the office. We were handed 20 practice rounds. When we fired those 20 rounds I had 21 in my target and the kid had maybe 12 or 13 in his target. They may have moved us apart after that round, I don’t remember but then we had 60 rounds to qualify. I had 59 in my target and I don’t remember how many rounds he had.
    So, if they ever need a small arms marksman they should head for me, and maybe put that guy next to me. I’ve had my little fun with that for a lot of years. : – ))

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  2. I also was awarded that Airforces small marksmanship medal when in 73-77 finishing as a Buck Sgt. NCO in SAC, and as an Air Policeman. I think I finished with one Row of Ribbons I was proud to wear Home. I also have no respect for the everyman Ribbons, but as a Kid was very respectful of a Friends Father who was a Parachuter for the Screaming Eagles in World War 11. I and my Friend always checked out his Father’s cased Purple Heart, and Bronze Star. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge. These are the Medals that counted to us Kids. Unfortunately, I do remember fellow Air Police pinning on Ribbons that were nor awarded on their Uniforms dress blues before leaving Base for Home thinking it was funny. Maybe to impress a Girl no doubt. I also very much remember a Student at my High School who had to leave School due to monetary reasons his Family was poor and enlisted to become a Marine. After his Basic Training, he visited us in his Dress Blues with one Ribbon: his National Defense Service Ribbon on only. In hindsight 1972 he probably went to Vietnam, and I haven’t heard any news from him since then, but I was more Impressed for the sacrifice of what he did now than any however many Sets of Ribbons worn…


  3. I forgot and omitted this, but just now remembered that my Friends Father Mr. Francis X. Garrison also had a Silver Star!


  4. Yes. It’s like merit badges in the Boy Scouts. Some guys in the military are ribbon collectors. Strivers, where success is measured by all the ribbons/devices/badges on one’s uniform.

    Maybe there should be a rule that only ribbons earned in combat can be worn — except troops would then seek combat so they could wear those “badges of courage.”

    Interestingly, most guys who earned silver stars and the like in combat in WW2 kept quiet about it. They kept their medals in shoe boxes or some other hiding hole. They didn’t strut about with them, mainly out of respect for their buddies who died in combat fighting the Nazis or the Japanese.


  5. Yes, Mr. Garrison was very quiet about his Medals even when we became Adolescents hardly ever mentioning them, but he continued Jumping into Middle Age until a Compound Fracture in his leg ended his Parachuting days! A great man he would give you the shirt off his back, Brian & I used to sneak into his Den in the Sixties to look at that Silver Star, Bronze Star & Purple Heart…Once gave our Father a Mother Lode of Stripers caught off his Boat on Cape. My first Ocean Fishing Trips & Camping up in N.H. were with his Family. Of course, Mr. Garrison had an untimely end… R.I.P.


  6. mikestrong33, your comments jogged a memory for me. Back in 1969-70 I was at Fort Ord, CA for Advanced Infantry Training. We had to take a test on the rifle range with pop-up targets at various distances. The testers solemnly warned us that if we failed the rifle range test you would recycled until you could pass the test. Since we were all infantry and the odds heavily favored us being assigned to Vietnam most of us were not hitting the targets. Oh gee, we could be “punished” by spending more time in Fort Ord vs Vietnam. We all “qualified” according to the testers scoring.

    Our Generals and Admirals look ridiculous in their dress uniforms. These officers remind me of those third world generals and admirals who have these elaborate uniforms with sashes, epaulets, shoulder boards, etc., they have comedic look to them.

    If you think about it the Medal Inflation of “being there” since WW 2 simply represents our expansion to a World Wide Empire. After WW 1 there were not a lot of places to deploy to, exceptions being the interventions in Latin America or China.


    1. America. Not “free” but “fleeced,” as in the opening stanza of America the Dutiful:

      In the Land of the Fleeced and the Home of the Slave
      Where the cowed and the buffaloed moan
      Where seldom we find an inquisitive mind
      And the people pay up with a groan

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005

      As for “trading intellect for ribbons,” yes, that does indeed seem to have long since “gone viral” (as the social media types like to say) throughout the senior ranks of the U.S. military officer corps. Even more significantly, though, in their dogged pursuit of these ostentatious trinkets, greasy-pole-climbing butt-kissers like generals Neller and Petraeus trade away far more than whatever meager intelligence they may once have possessed. They trade away their souls, becoming what Hannah Arendt called “desk murderers.” Elaborating on this concept, the late Chalmers Johnson — in Nemesis: the Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006) — quoted Arendt from her book Eichman in Jerusalmem: A Report on the Banality of Evil:

      “Some years ago,” [Arendt] wrote, “reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of the ‘banality of evil‘ and meant with this no theory or doctrine but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was perhaps an extraordinary shallowness. However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.”

      Professor Chalmers goes on to add:

      “Arendt was trying to locate Eichmann’s conscience. She called him a ‘desk murderer,’ an equally apt term for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld – for anyone, in fact, who orders remote-control killing of the modern sort – the bombardment of a country that lacks any form of air defense, the firing of cruise missiles from a warship at sea into countries unable to respond, such as Iraq, Sudan, or Afghanistan, or, say, the unleashing of a hellfire missile from a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by ‘pilots’ thousands of miles from the prospective target.”

      “How do ordinary people become desk murderers? First they must lose the ability to think because, according to Arendt, ‘thinking conditions men against evil doing.’”

      To hammer the point home: Desk murderers must first lose the ability to think.

      Astute observations like those of Hannah Arendt and Chalmers Johnson above, always remind me of something my fellow Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg would say whenever someone accused American civilian and military officials of manifest stupidity: “They’re not stupid. They’re just clever people who have lost their minds.

      Whatever. Whether just plain stupid or criminally insane, the obtuse and obdurate truculence of bovine bureaucrats like general Robert Neller — not to mention his current and former Commanders-in-Brief — amounts to nothing more or less than the usual and casual American desk-murdering of foreign populations by fatuous factotums in both civilian and military attire. The civilian desk murderers must wear the obligatory American flag pin on the lapels of their suits. The high-ranking military desk murderers must wear row-upon-row of militarist “bling” (as the hip-hop types like to say) all over the front of their starched and stiff uniforms. Come to think of it, what a perfect description of the American militarist “mind,” namely: starched, stiff, and uniform.

      At any rate, one medal or ribbon that no one will ever see on the front of a U.S. military officer’s uniform: the one for actually “finishing” something, as in “wrapping up,” “concluding,” “bringing to a close,” “terminating,” “stopping,” “ceasing,” or … you know … “ending” what no one in their right mind would have started in the first place. As we dragooned and bullied enlisted types used to say back in the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam: “We lost the say we started and we win the day we stop. So just stop already. Time’s up.”

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      1. You have a brilliant idea in here, Mike. We need a peacemaker or war-ender ribbon, ranked near the Medal of Honor. We could also use a ribbon for money-saving at the Pentagon; another one for canceling unnecessary weaponry; another one for closing costly and unneeded bases; another one for not murdering innocents with drones.

        With all these new ribbons and incentives, perhaps then we’ll see a change in behavior by bling-chasers. A man can dream, right?

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