An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Sept. 10, 2012

Above and beyond

By Chief Master Sgt. Earl Hannon Joint Base Charleston command chief

Throughout my daily interactions, I am frequently asked what my "policy" is regarding any number of topics affecting our Airmen and Sailors. Most often, I respond by explaining that I have no policy on the subject because each case is different. Every individual and situation comes with a unique set of circumstances that must be evaluated based on its own merit, therefore typically rendering blanket policies inflexible and unfair.

Conversely, I have developed a broad set of general philosophies over the years, based on Air Force Instructions as well as other Air Force and Department of Defense guidance, that I rely on to help guide my decision-making process. One topic on which I would like to share this philosophy - because it is one that more frequently prompts the policy question - is awards and decorations.

According to AFI 36-2803, recommendations for a decoration must be restricted to "recognizing meritorious service, outstanding achievement or acts of heroism that clearly place individuals above his or her peers." As such, decoration recommendations must not be used as an incentive or as a token to "do something for your people." Outstanding achievement and acts of heroism are somewhat self-explanatory and more clearly defined in the AFI. But one of the most common reasons for recommending a decoration - yet quite possibly the least understood - is meritorious service.

Meritorious service decoration recommendations are based upon a completed period of service, i.e. permanent change of station, permanent change of assignment, extended tour or retirement. However, it is important to understand that nobody is automatically entitled to a decoration upon completion of a given period of service. Before recommending an individual for a decoration, we must evaluate all related facts regarding the service of that individual. So what exactly should this evaluation look like?

Clearly, we must guard against recommending a decoration for an individual whose entire service for the award period is not honorable. But perhaps a bit less obvious criterion is that the individual's duty performance must be above and beyond that of other members in the same grade and skill set, thereby clearly placing this individual above his or her peers. And again, we must consider all related facts - to include the "whole" person - not simply the fact that he or she may be good at their craft ... they must clearly exceed all established standards and undisputedly embody all facets of a professional warrior.

Additionally, while AFI 36-2803 establishes a minimum time period for extended tour decorations, truly compelling justification must exist to recommend a decoration at the minimum time. Further, when considering the appropriate level of decoration to recommend, it must not be based on the individual's grade, but on their level of responsibility and sustained manner of performance.

As stated earlier, nobody is automatically entitled to a decoration. Yet far too often I hear an argument along the lines of, "he's a good technician and deserves something ... I don't want to hurt his chances of getting promoted ... it's about taking care of our people." But this style of taking care of people and doing the right thing for our people are at opposite ends of the spectrum. When we fail to properly distinguish between the two, we ultimately harm our truly deserving superstars, erode our personal credibility and diminish the importance and status of these time-honored decorations.