Bronze Star Epilogue

Posted on July 24, 2009

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The cease-fire happened before the great collision between the RGFC and the coalition. Anticlimactic, right? Multiply that feeling by a million times, and throw in some sense of relief, and you’ll get an idea of how we felt.

We had some mopping up to do. We got to watch the fireworks as the engineers went through the RGFC logistics base and blew up weapons and ammunition. Then, one morning, we saw a column of black smoke moving across the desert. We climbed up on top of our tanks with our binoculars to check it out. At the base of the smoke was an M1-series tank. You might remember me saying how we lost D14. After the cease-fire, I found out that the division had abandoned that tank where it sat. Similar to the pre-war situation with my two semi-functional tanks, the division chose to devote recovery vehicles to towing multiple lighter vehicles rather than a single tank. That was also why there were no recovery vehicles to pull my tank from the canal when needed.

Sure enough, the tank at the base of the column was D14. My platoon sergeant’s gunner had taken charge of the crew and chased after the battalion, stopping at every coalition unit he met to borrow oil and get fresh directions. It was an astounding feat of initiative and determination.

Shortly after that, I was told to scavenge some writing paper and write award recommendations for actions during the war. I wrote up my gunner for knocking out what was in all likelihood an SA-60 (57mm anti-aircraft gun) and protecting the infantry company. I wrote up my platoon sergeant’s gunner for his feats of navigation and scavenging that reunited him with us. When I turned in my recommendations, the company commander told me that he had written me up for the Bronze Star for saving his company. I protested, but he told me that was the way the Army worked and I should suck it up.

In retrospect, I see his point. Any platoon leader who didn’t get at least a Bronze Star during the Gulf War could kiss his career good-bye. Not getting one meant that you had failed. At the same time, recognizing my platoon sergeant’s gunner would have meant admitting that the division had abandoned a tank and a crew in the middle of the Iraqi desert. That just wasn’t going to happen. They did give the medic who drove his M113 onto Tallil Airfield an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM), but they couldn’t give him a higher award because he disobeyed orders. It sucks, but that’s the way it was. My gunner did get an award, just not the one that I think he deserved. On the other hand, all I got when I left the battalion was an ARCOM, so karma catches up with everybody.

When the brigade commander pinned the Bronze Star on me, he may have known my discomfort with the situation. He leaned in close and said, “Never forget that you brought them all home safe.”

The leadership lessons I carry around from this, still, are simple ones.

  • You must guard against caring too much.
  • You must appear impartial, no matter how you feel.
  • There is absolutely no substitute for preparedness.
  • If you let stuff happen, it will – and not the way you want it to.
  • You need to sleep.
  • You need to eat.

So that’s the story of why I have the Bronze Star. I hope you enjoyed it, and now I’ll return to my regularly scheduled rant…I mean blogging.

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