U.S. military officials are considering whether to upgrade nearly 1,400 combat valor awards earned by troops throughout the past 15 years, a number that is significantly higher than the Pentagon initially projected.
The review began in January, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter voiced concern about whether personnel have been recognized properly for their heroic actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and on other battlefields that are less clearly defined. At that time, officials indicated the review would focus on approximately 1,100 awards, including about 1,000 Silver Stars and about 100 service crosses.
But since then, the individual services identified a total of 1,357 medals that qualify for another look, according to Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, a Pentagon spokesman. Specifically, the Army is reviewing 785 Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross awards; the Navy Department, which includes the Marine Corps, is reviewing 425 Navy Crosses and Silver Stars; and the Air Force is reviewing 147 Silver Stars and Air Force Crosses.
Within the military's valor awards hierarchy, service crosses rank second, behind only the Medal of Honor. Silver Stars are third in line.
The results are due to Carter by Sept. 30, 2017, and he has waived rules requiring new material evidence before upgrades are approved.
Officials have said that there's no specific reason to believe anyone was deprived of proper recognition. Yet an analysis by Military Times shows that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been been awarded the Medal of Honor at the lowest rate in a century. And for years troops have complained that the awards process is bureaucratic and painstakingly slow, often recognizing deserving personnel long after they've left the war zone and, in many cases, after they've transferred to a new unit or separated from the military entirely.
Since 9/11, the Pentagon has awarded 18 Medals of Honor. Until 2010, all presented posthumously.
The Pentagon clarified its policy that same year, stating explicitly that the award's "risk of life" criteria does not mean a service member must be wounded or killed in order to receive it. Since then, the military has awarded 11 Medals of Honor to living veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.