Last week I had the chance to attend the premier professional development forum for soldiers, the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. Full disclosure here, it is no secret that I am AUSA Senior Fellow and long-time supporter so let me just get in a plug. I believe regardless your profession that you should align with an advocacy group that represents your ideals and beliefs, and for me it is AUSA. With that unpaid announcement done the topic I wanted to get a gut check from my readers on is neck medals.
Now I am not talking about our nations highest award the Medal of Honor, which of the official US decorations is one of two neck orders that is hung on something other that a suspension ribbon on the dress or mess uniform. The MOH was not always worn around the neck, the first incarnations was suspended from a ribbon and worn on the coat breast, it was in 1944 when was attached to a light blue colored moiré silk neck ribbon. An interesting peace of trivia is that the Legion of Merit is another official decoration that is not only worn as a suspension medal, it is awarded in one of four degrees, with the Commander degree worn around the neck. The Legionnaire degree is awarded to US forces, but the Commander degree can only be awarded to the equivalent of a U.S. military chief of staff or higher position, but not to a head of state.
At this meeting I came in contact with a senior noncommissioned officer wearing what I believed to be a regimental award around his neck while in his “class A” ASU. Now look, I get it. There is nothing worse than some overly anal nit-picking retiree telling today’s force how to run things or how screwed up it has gotten since we left, but look there are pet peeves and then there are enforcing standards. Personally, it doesnt matter to me if it was a Regimental award, an Audie Murphy Club medallion, Dr. Mary E. Walker award or the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris award regimental awards are classified by AR 670-1 as a quasi-military decoration and can only be worn while in uniform while attending the event. The regulation is so clear on the position that it even expounds in para. 22-12, section d., that says neck medals “will not be worn to and from the event.”
This is not about neck medal envy either. I have been awarded not only two regimental awards and a Hall of Fame recognition that are suspended from a ribbon worn around the neck, but I would never wear them all at the same time. It has been more than a few times I have seen senior noncommissioned officers (mostly) wearing enough neck bling at the same time to shame Flavor Flav and Audie Murphy himself. In keeping with the rule-set that to be in compliance with the regulation he would need to have been attending the Saint Barbara’s Association’s gathering of Sergeant Audie Murphy Club members, to be put on as they enter the gathering, and removed as they left. And how to wear these things, under the lapel, over the lapel, cinched up close or letting your freak flag fly with it at the full-length of the ribbon?
Okay, you get the picture. The thing that was unsettling to me most was that this leader was in view of some of the highest ranking people in the Army gathered in one place and no one applied an on-the-spot (OTS) correction, so I figured I was just out of touch. I recall being awarded the Ordnance Order of Samuel Sharpe as a first sergeant, I was proud as my company commander awarded me medallion #411. When he handed me the decoration box and certificate from my Regimental Association in it appeared an extract of the regulation, and instructions and directions for how to wear it properly. According to my instructions neck medals should be worn up tight, not loosely at the end of the ribbon. It was always a treat when I got to go to the Ordnance Ball or my multi-functional sustainment units branch get-together’s and show off our branch pride. But I never wore it outside of a Ball or Dining In/Out, which is the appropriate time and place.
And other than the initial presentation I would never have considered wearing in it my ACUs, yet I don’t know how many times I have seem SAMC Club members in parades and graduations doing just that. Now I am smart enough to know that everything is waiverable it seems and in this case there is a provision that gives commanders the authority to use their prerogative and allow neck medals to be worn at events, which I feel is mostly reserved for events of the type of nature of a unit-sponsored Ball, not for any event that Joe goes to in his ASUs (or ACU/OCP). But even if that was the case (its their prerogative after all), surely it cannot just be arbitrarily approved at the lowest level of command? I mean if the Division Commander is holding a Dining In that Bravo Company 1/23 Bn commander can dictate what his soldiers can and cannot wear? I would suggest that the authority for wear resides at a lot higher level that what that NCO was likely to muster.
I am not a hater of neck medals or of people who wear them at my self-declared inappropriate places, but if you have followed my writings in the past you know I am a champion of appropriately written standards and am the scourge of ambiguity. If we are going to allow neck medals then we should enforce the rules on them, something as mainstream as neck medals should have appropriate standards. If no standards exists, lets come up with something. There is no instructions in either AR 670-1 or DA Pam 670-1 about multiple medals and maybe there should be, even though an individual is not likely to be in a position to wear more than one, according to the regulation. And maybe as an Army leaders should tighten the shot group when it comes to where and hen to wear neck orders, and consider this blog post as a refresher on the rules.
Like always I may be over thinking it, so you tell me your thoughts below?
CSM Dan Elder, USA, Retired