U.S. troops in Afghanistan could soon be awarded a medal for not doing something, a precedent-setting award that would be given for “courageous restraint” for holding fire to save civilian lives.
The proposal is now circulating in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, a command spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
“The idea is consistent with our approach,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis. “Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions.”
Soldiers are often recognized for non-combat achievement with decorations such as their service’s commendation medal. But most of the highest U.S. military decorations are for valor in combat. A medal to recognize a conscious effort to avoid a combat action would be unique.
Consideration of such an award, first reported by an Associated Press reporter in Afghanistan, doesn’t mean that, if approved, troops would be pressured to prevent such casualties at risk to themselves, Sholtis said.
“We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves,” Sholtis said. “Valuing restraint in a potentially dangerous situation is not the same thing as denying troops the right to employ lethal force when they determine that it is necessary.”
A spokesman for the 2.2 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s largest group of combat veterans, thinks the award would cause confusion among the ranks and send a bad signal.