Embassy Siege

Posted on Tues, 31 October 2017 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Embassy Siege Who gets what?

ONE of the big medal-related stories this past month has been the decision to introduce a new Operational Service Medal (OSM) for Operation Shader (service in Iraq and Syria against IS/Daesh/ISIS/ISIL) as announced by Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon (see “News & views”, page 6). It seems that the new medal will be awarded with a clasp Iraq and Syria (with a rosette worn on the ribbon only) and this immediately opens up the question of exactly who is going to be eligible for the award and whether all will be eligible for the clasp. As we reported in MEDAL NEWS last month, Sir Michael had already raised the possibility of personnel not engaged “on the ground” in Iraq or Syria being eligible for the medal—specifically the operators of the drone aircraft that have been so effective in targeting IS positions, as they have played just as vital a part in the operation as those in situ. This caused some controversy at first with some commentators likening the drone operators to teenagers playing video games, who are in no way as deserving of medallic recognition as those putting themselves in danger on the front line. Others pointed out that the effects of PTSD and similar trauma are well documented these days and that the drone operators were unlikely not to suffer in some way mentally if not physically and therefore were every bit as deserving of recognition as anyone else. The introduction of a clasp, in addition to the medal’s own unique ribbon, seems to indicate that perhaps, as in the South Atlantic, those who served within a recognised combat zone will be awarded the medal with clasp (it was a rosette only for the SAM of course, not a clasp as such), those whose role is considered more “support” will receive the medal sans clasp. The choice of flanking colour for the ribbon (being called “air superiority grey”) certainly indicates that those involved some way in air combat are being recognised, so awards to drone operators as outlined above certainly do seem likely. The problem comes with exactly how you define “support”: if you give it to the drone operators don’t you then have to give it to everybody who is supporting the combat troops, no matter where they are stationed? In the Falklands War it was easy: those left behind at home, no matter what their role, didn’t get a medal, those who went abroad, even if not into the combat zone did. The drone operators do indeed go abroad in many cases, but I’m not sure whether Nevada can be seen as an operational theatre . . .

Such awards will, of course, cause controversy when they are first made, and will, once again, call into question the whole point of the award of a medal in the first place. Gallantry awards are straightforward—you do something brave, something above and beyond what is normally expected and you get a medal, which medal that is depends on what you did, whether you put yourself in danger, saved another’s life, etc. (yes, oversimplified I know). A Long Service and Good Conduct medal is also easy. You serve for a set amount of time and don’t get into too much trouble and you get a medal. Simple (until you start changing the rules that is!). But campaign medals and the qualification thereof have always been controversial; how many of us have in our collections a medal or two that the recipient of a group added himself because he felt he deserved it? And how many of us have groups missing medals that you feel sure should be there but then find out that the recipient missed out by just a day or two? In recent years we have had the Canal Zone clasp, the Bomber Command clasp and the Arctic Star, all introduced retrospectively because it was felt the original decision not to make such an award was wrong. There was also the extension of the criteria for the above mentioned South Atlantic Medal and, of course, there is the ever present push for a “Service Medal” for those who serve a long and distinguished career on home service but get no medallic recognition for it.

In the case of the new OSM there is no right answer of course, if the drone pilots receive nothing there will be those who complain, if they do receive a medal there will be others who complain just as much. Personally I think the award of a clasp for those actually in Iraq or Syria is probably the best option—others will disagree. What no-one can disagree with though is that warfare is changing and the way our armed services do battle is a far, far cry from how it once was (and the enemies they fight are different too) and medallic recognition must change as well. At the moment UK campaign medals are awarded according to a “consideration of rigour and risk” with risk being defined as being actually exposed to danger—but surely our goal is to limit, as much as possible, the danger in which our service men and women find themselves is it not? This being the case we either get to a point where very few, if any, campaign medals are awarded, or the criteria for their award must change. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

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