Sunday, March 04, 2007
Nearly 7 months after I qualified for it, the Army has finally seen fit to award me the Combat Infantryman's Badge. The CIB was started in WWII to recognize the sacrifice of infantry soldiers who generally saw the bulk of the front line fighting. Officially it is awarded for being 'personally present and under hostile fire while serving in an infantry duty'. In my case it was for getting blown up by an IED. The CIB and it's new younger cousin, the CAB, or Combat Action Badge, are the subject of endless debating among soldiers on the ground in Iraq and I imagine Afghanistan as well. The debate centers around what should qualify as hostile fire.
During WWII, Korea and Vietnam, the concept of hostile fire was very simple. The enemy either shot at you with a rifle, grenade, mortar, tank, or something similar. You were on one side of a line and your enemy was on the other, and he conveniently wore a uniform that identified him for you.
Here in Iraq the situation is quite a bit different since the end of major combat operations. Fighting against a terrorist/insurgent threat has caused the Army to adapt in many different ways, but when it comes to awards the Army is still struggling. Take my case for example. I and the other soldiers in my truck qualified for the CIB when our truck was hit by an IED last July. It was a remote controlled device, so someone waited until we were in just the right spot and then pushed the button. Strictly speaking, the enemy set an ambush for us, engaged us, and then retreated. None of us were hurt, and the triggerman wasn't found. This is a nice simple example. But it gets more complicated.
My unit has gotten quite good at finding IED's before they are detonated on us. When we find one, we have electronic jammers that prevent it from being detonated. Clearly, the enemy has set an ambush for us, tried to engage us, but we were able to prevent the attack. Does this qualify as hostile fire for a CIB? The Army says sometimes yes, sometimes no. This has created the ridiculous situation where soldiers are penalized for finding an IED before it goes off. Better to prevent the attack in the first place, in my opinion.
This issue isn't nearly as big a problem at most other bases in Iraq because most other units are facing at least sporadic small arms fire. After nearly a year in Iraq, I can't recall if there have been any incidents in my company of us getting shot at. It's almost all IED's. Nearly every soldier in the company has been involved in an IED, either one that went off or one that we found first. But there are 3 soldiers in my platoon of 20 that don't yet qualify for a CIB.
You might wonder what the fuss is about, since we as soldiers know who did what, and where credit is due. But wearing a CIB is a big deal in an infantry unit. It tells others that you were there, that you 'have seen the elephant', as the old vets at the VFW like to call it.