Congress doesn't approve Army medal
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 7:45 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent wanted to make it easier for all Army veterans — not just those who took up arms after the September 2001 terrorist attacks — to receive recognition for facing combat.
But his effort met an unforeseen foe: the U.S. Senate.
Nugent, a Brooksville Republican whose district includes Dunnellon and other parts of western Marion County, successfully shepherded through the House legislation that would have permitted soldiers who served before 9/11 to qualify for the Army's Combat Action Badge, or CAB.
The Army originally authorized the award in June 2005. It can be awarded to troops who are deployed to areas designated as hostile and who are members of units that would not normally qualify for other decorations specifically granted to infantryman or to medics who serve in infantry or Special Forces units.
The badge was established to reflect the fluid and varied context of modern warfare, especially in urbanized areas, where there is no clear-cut front line.
It "recognizes the new reality of today's 360-degree battlefield," Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman, told Stars and Stripes in 2005. "If you're a dental hygienist … and you're in a convoy that takes fire, and you acquit yourself well, you should be recognized."
Yet the Army brass has prohibited the CAB from being presented for combat service by such troops prior to Sept. 18, 2001.
Nugent, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Illinois Air National Guard with three sons who serve in the Army, offered an amendment to the Pentagon budget bill that would have permitted veterans who served on or after Dec. 7, 1941, to qualify for the CAB.
But while the initiative sailed through the House, the Senate opted to exclude it from its defense bill.
The freshman congressman said in an interview Tuesday that he wasn't sure why the Senate declined to act, but felt the matter still needs to be addressed.
"There are a lot of veterans who have served and seen combat and did not qualify for a combat infantryman's badge. Why should they be excluded? That's always been sort of an issue, and that's why the CAB was created," Nugent said.
Nugent acknowledged that he overestimated how receptive the Senate would be to what he saw as a simply rectified oversight — especially since the cost would be borne by the veterans seeking the award.
He was so confident the other chamber would go along that he didn't try to recruit any senators as sponsors, he said.
"I didn't think it was all that important," Nugent said. But, "you can't take the common sense things for granted."
Nugent said he would approach Florida's lawmakers — Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican — about sponsoring the measure when he brings it back later this year.
Jeffrey Askew, director of the Marion County Veterans Services Department, believed many local Army veterans would apply for the CAB if given the opportunity.
"It would be an achievement showing they fought for their country," he said. "They were in the hot zone. Just because they weren't in the frontline, hand-to-hand combat they still took hostile fire."
The Navy and the Marine Corps were years ahead of the Army in recognizing their respective combat veterans.
The Navy in 1969 created an equivalent to the CAB — the Combat Action Ribbon — that could be awarded to Marines or sailors who had "rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire" while involved in ground or naval combat.
Eligibility to receive the ribbon was made retroactive to March 1961.
A law enacted by former President Bill Clinton in October 1999 extended the eligibility period from Dec. 6, 1941, to March 1, 1961.
The CAB features a silver rectangle shrouded by an oak wreath and embossed with a hand grenade overlaid by a bayonet.
Those symbols capture "the spirit of the Warrior ethos," the Army website says.
More than 100,000 soldiers have received CABs, according to Army records.
Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org