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October 07, 2004

Tell me again why...

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, fight house-to-house during Operation Baton Rouge, in Samarra, Iraq. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Johancharles Van Boers.

These soldiers don't qualify for a badge at least equivalent to, if not, the Combat Infantryman's Badge?

Explain, if you will, how these soldiers, fighting in this way, don't qualify, while 11-series MOS soldiers a block over do *exactly the same thing* do qualify?

Is it time for a re-think on 'combat badges'?

I'm not dissing the CIB or the medic's equivalent, the Combat Field Medical Badge. Both are earned by sticking your relatively unarmored self into the crucible of direct fire combat right out there on the field where, as the Germans said, "The Iron Crosses grow."

But the picture above is of Armor crewmen fighting as Infantry. Not incidentally dismounting their Steel Steeds to chase some errant RPG gunner, or some such. Not checking out a house as a place to sleep for the night, incident to resuming some nice mechanized combat on the morrow.

We can find similar pictures of Artillerymen - fighting as infantry. And not because they are defending a position incident to their primary duties - but because they are being EMPLOYED AS INFANTRY.

This is a war being fought more like our pre-mechanized combat wars were fought, albeit we bring to it a whole lot of tech. The CIB was developed back when the artillery had developed range that pushed the guns back, off the line of battle. Back when tanks ruled just about any battlefield they appeared on, if they were competently handled.

But the war now is truly an infantryman's war. And since we don't have enough infantry, and don't need as many tanks, or artillery - we've rediscovered the manly virtues of soldiering - and the fact that in some manner, every soldier is an Infantryman.

No disrespect to the essential craft of the Infantry. But, if I slog through Samarra hip-to-hip with you, fighting just as you fight, taking exactly the same risks you take - well...

Just a thought.

In the extended entry are the thoughts of an Infantry Major on the subject. He was a Captain when he wrote the piece - but I asked him if I could use it in conjunction with this post... and he stands by what he said here. It's in the Flash Traffic.

I say it's time for a re-look. And I throw my vote behind Chris's approach as a basis to start the discussion.

What say you?

Cross-posted to The Mudville Gazette.

Combat Badges and the Combined Arms Team

The time is a few years from now. The place is a future battlefield, not sufficiently large to mobilize the nation, but requiring the professional American soldier, augmented with select National Guard formations, to fight against a determined and creative foe.

In the opening days, a combined arms brigade task force was the first to deploy. It was built around an IBCT (-) but augmented with an armor battalion, an armored cavalry troop and a mechanized infantry battalion. A significant slice from division headquarters was there to command and control the fight and control the influx of reinforcing elements.

The enemy struck first, when the unit was getting itself organized on the battlefield, and therefore most vulnerable. The heavily outnumbered Americans, though caught by surprise, fought valiantly against the onslaught. The outcome was very much in doubt for the first couple of days. American forces fought a continuous combined arms battle for three consecutive days, unlike any in the Army but the most senior general officer or command sergeant major had experienced. Soldiers in the infantry-based organization fought hand-to-hand. Infantry commanders ordered “fix bayonets” on more than one occasion. Infantry soldiers were forced to resort to hand-held weapons to defeat enemy armor at times. Indirect fire was adjusted to within tens of meters of friendly positions. The opening battle was over in three days with the American reinforced interim brigade victorious but very bloodied. The war ended a week later. The unit was recognized with a Presidential Unit Citation, the first unit since Vietnam. Over a dozen Medals of Honor were recommended.

Individual acts of heroism were numerous among the infantry and the other members of the combined arms team. But the post battle awards ceremony held at the home station of the unit pointed out an anomaly in the regulation very seldom thought of. In the scout platoon of the mechanized infantry battalion, the platoon leader, being an infantry officer, was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) along with a Bronze Star for Valor. Two 11M10s who filled up the platoon as vehicle drivers were also awarded Combat Infantry Badges. Unlike previous campaigns, there was not even a hint of controversy over these badges. However, the remaining members of the platoon, all 19D Scouts as per the MTOE, including the section leader who was awarded the Silver Star, were not awarded any badge showing meritorious performance in combat, despite taking the same or greater risks to gather critical battlefield information.

In the armor battalion, the mortar platoon leader, being an armor officer was not awarded a CIB, despite his Bronze Star with V device and Purple Heart. His 11C mortar men were all awarded the CIB. The platoon leader of the MGS platoon in B Company of the 3rd Interim Infantry Battalion, being an armor officer, and his 19-series crewmen were not awarded CIBs along with the rest of their rifle company, despite the platoon’s counterattack into the teeth of an enemy bunker network to extract the surviving members of B Company. The platoon leader was recognized with a Distinguished Service Cross. He and his men were not totally out of place though, because the company FIST team was left out of the CIB portion of the awards ceremony, as was the company chemical NCO (54B20), despite his action, “picking up an M249 SAW from a severely wounded 11B and holding an enemy infantry platoon at bay for fifteen vital minutes, despite being grievously wounded.” This action merited a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, but not a CIB.

The armored cavalry troop endured one short, but very intense fight lasting just under two hours. The troop decimated a reinforced mechanized battalion, equipped with modern armor, about to conduct an attack into the flank of the IBCT. The tanks and CFVs were in a maelstrom, suffering numerous casualties, but never let the enemy get within 500 meters of the unit. The troop mortar section fired fourteen fire missions, but never came under direct fire and was able to avoid the enemy counter-fire by skillful survivability moves. The troop mortar section was recognized with CIBs. While doing their duty well, no mortar-man particularly distinguished himself. Four members of the troop from the tank and CFV platoons were awarded Silver Stars and twenty-two men received Purple Hearts.

Perhaps the most confounding situation involved an infantry captain and an infantry sergeant first class assigned to the G3 section at the Division Main Command Post. During the first day of the battle, an enemy special operations platoon identified the CP and conducted an attack. Surprise was complete. Casualties were significant and the enemy was able to temporarily disrupt operations. However, the CP was effectively functioning within six hours of the attack because of the individual actions of the captain and NCO. Both men, with total disregard for their own safety, managed to kill at least twenty-three of the enemy and repulse the attack in less than 3 hours. They then assisted in the casualty evacuation until they both were forced to get on a medevac bird by the Division Chief of Staff. Their actions saved the CP and saved the Division. For their actions they were both awarded the Medal of Honor, but, despite being infantrymen, were ineligible for the Combat Infantry Badge due to their echelon of assignment.

During the three-hour ceremony, the Chief of Staff of the Army, accompanied by the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, noted these anomalies and a few others. “This is wrong. The nature of close combat has changed somewhat. We need to re-look at the eligibility criteria but preserve the special nature of the CIB,” he told his aide-de-camp. At that moment, he vowed to fix this seemingly small, but culturally significant problem.

The issue of a Combat Armor Badge as written about by MG Bell in the September-October 2000, “Commander’s Hatch” has already generated some response. I support the creation of a combat badge for other close combat elements, as opposed to the Chief of Armor.

I strongly disagree with Major General Bell’s point that the creation of a CAB would be divisive within the Armor and Cavalry community. I believe the award would only become divisive if it carried disproportionate weight for its value. By that I mean, if the badge was watered down and issued as a service award for “just showing up with the right MOS in the right echelon” then it would be a problem. If, however, the badge recognized outstanding conduct while engaged in close combat with enemy forces, then it should not be a problem.

The Combat Infantry Badge has this problem today because many feel it is given away cheaply, including many soldiers authorized to wear it. Originally it was conceived of as an award for outstanding performance in the face of enemy fire and not as a mere service badge, but it later devolved into that. Operation DESERT STORM is the most immediately obvious case in point. Many 11-series soldiers earned the CIB because they were in a brigade or lower unit and crossed the LD, but they never actually engaged in close combat by firing on the enemy or even received enemy fire. In the minds of many, this insults those who earned the CIB in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and those who actually did get into serious fights in Iraq. In an attempt at fairness, the Army awarded all 11-series soldiers the CIB as long as they crossed the LD. Ironically, this included the 11C mortarmen assigned to armored cavalry troops. The myth of a 30-day requirement, never actually in the regulation, but possibly theater command guidance in past conflicts, exacerbates this problem. A tightening of the eligibility criteria is in order for this badge.

Major General Bell points out the unquestioned value that all armor warriors add in performing across the spectrum of missions. However, this value is already recognized by the uniform and branch insignia worn by armor and cavalry soldiers. I find it discomforting to equate serving as a drill sergeant, a recruiter, in AC/RC or in a non-active theater with serving in lethal, direct fire combat. Lethal, direct fire combat is our raison d’être. It is the profession of arms’ monopoly. Everything else we do is in support of this mission. Therefore, while not denigrating those who serve in other missions, we should strive to venerate those that have experienced the crucible of battle and performed in accordance with the highest tradition of the service. That is why the award should not be a mere service award, but an achievement type award.

I disagree with his point that the proposal would not promote unity and cohesion across the combined arms team. First, we are becoming an Army so egalitarian that we are reluctant to recognize the special nature of our combat forces. All professional soldiers know the value and necessity of all the different branches and MOS’s. However, the soldiers engaging the enemy in close, direct combat and accepting the significantly higher probability of becoming a casualty are a special breed. They make the Army what it is. They should be recognized for this fact.

To counter the argument that there would be a landslide of special badge requests, I propose the following:

1) The Department of the Army creates a Close Combat Badge (CCB) for wear on dress uniforms and battle dress uniforms. The eligibility criteria is: a soldier must be in an MOS or branch, other than Infantry, Special Forces, or Medical Corps, that routinely operates as part of its mission in close contact with the enemy; the soldier must actually engage the enemy and come under direct fire and perform in an outstanding manner; and the soldier must be assigned or operationally controlled at maneuver battalion task force level or below. This would recognize combat engineers, tankers, cavalry scouts, SHORAD, fire supporters, assault aviation crewmen and pilots, attack and cavalry pilots, signalers and MI collectors who are routinely task organized to the fighting elements.

2) The Department of the Army creates a Combat Action Badge (CAB), both in a First and Second Class. This badge would be somewhat akin to the Department of the Navy’s Combat Action Ribbon. The CAB 2nd Class would recognize a soldier’s service in a division-based combat brigade, separate maneuver brigade or lower unit in an active theater. It would be awarded regardless of MOS. Depending on the tactical situation, the eligibility criteria could be amended for unusual circumstances, such as an entire division being surrounded and cut-off. The CAB 1st Class would be awarded as a merit award to any soldier, regardless of echelon, who engages the enemy. It would be awarded on a case-by-case basis and require a level of performance higher than merely “being there”. The CAB 1st recognizes the meritorious performance in direct fire combat those who are not expected to routinely engage in direct fire combat, but in fact do. The CAB 2nd recognizes those who very closely support and assist the close-combat forces and thus are exposed to a higher probability of injury and death without minimizing the value of the special badges reserved for the close-combat soldiers.

3) No soldier would be eligible to wear more than one badge. He would have to choose between the CIB, CMB and CCB, which would have equal value and be higher in precedence than the Combat Action Badges. The CAB 1st Class would take precedence over the CAB 2nd Class. Subsequent awards of the specific badge can be recognized with appropriate appurtenances.

A few additional examples of the current mismatch that exists with the CIB today are in order. First, while I was a young Captain serving on brigade staff as the assistant S4, I was just as eligible to receive a CIB as I was as a rifle company commander. That struck me as silly. Today, an infantry captain or sergeant, serving on an “armored” brigade’s staff would be eligible for a CIB, whereas their armor brothers would get nothing. The CAB system would alleviate this.

The infantry officer serving as a rifle company commander would likely earn the CIB, whereas the infantry officer serving as an assistant S4 would receive a CAB 2nd Class. The Infantry captain and sergeant on division staff from the opening vignette would earn a CAB 1st Class. All on brigade staff would receive the CAB 2nd class. At lower echelons, a turret mechanic in an armor battalion task force, for example, would get the CAB 2nd Class. If he were to engage enemy forces while defending the UMCP, he may be eligible for the CAB 1st Class in addition to any awards for valor depending on his individual conduct. A tank gunner serving on a tank in combat would automatically earn the CAB 2nd Class. If he were to engage enemy forces, he would be eligible for the CCB.

I believe this solution, while only roughly sketched, would go a long way toward keeping the special nature of the CIB and CMB while appropriately recognizing the members of the combined arms team who are absolutely vital to battlefield success as much today as they were in World War II.

Christopher M. Coglianese
CPT, Infantry
Schenectady, NY

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