NATO has taken flak for the last few years for the numbers of civilian casualties occurring in the Afghanistan campaign. With the war’s military leadership, especially General Stanley McChrystal, emphasizing the need to win the support and confidence of the civilian population, there has been serious pressure on commanders to limit civilian deaths whenever possible. Despite this, civilian deaths have risen in the country since last year.

Now, NATO has come up with a new plan to reduce civilian casualties: The Courageous Restraint Medal:

“British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, proposed the idea of awarding soldiers for “courageous restraint” during a visit by Hall to Kandahar Airfield in mid April. McChrystal is now reviewing the proposal to determine how it could be implemented, Hall said.” …

“There should be an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the troops who exhibit extraordinary courage and self-control by not using their weapons, but instead taking personal risk to de-escalate tense and potentially disastrous situations,” the statement said.” …

“NATO commanders are not planning to create a new medal or military decoration for “courageous restraint,” but instead are looking at ways of using existing awards to recognize soldiers who go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, Hall said.”

Okay, so maybe there is not really going to be a medal, but still, recognizing restraint in combat? That is a world away from traditional medals which highlight martial qualities.

Will it work? Not a chance.

I typically avoid discussing internal Armed Services politics for a simple reason: I am not in the military. However, nothing in my experience with servicemen and women leads me to believe they want to celebrate ‘restraint’. There is a poignant Marine Corps saying, attributed to a Korean War veteran: “Never send a Marine where you can send a bullet, and the bigger the bullet the better”. Any act of courageous restraint, by definition, sends Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen in first. And there lies the problem. Winning a medal for courageous restraint would be a scarlet letter, warning that the owner put his subordinates or compatriots at risk when he did not need to, when a bullet would do.

There are ways to reduce civilian casualties, but this is not one of them.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • UltimaRatioReg


    Excellent comments. My concern is that we will retain all the wrong lessons from the two current dust-ups, in that holding back on employing supporting fires is the “new” way of war, and that putting Marines (or soldiers or sailors) in where that bullet should go instead will become doctrine, and we will have a ton of casualties in re-learning how generally foolish that is.

    We can try and rationalize all we want, but the assertions of First Sergeant Bernard are correct.

    Phib asked me a similar question when I was a guest on his MIDRATS, and the answer I gave was basically that overwhelming firepower and aggressiveness is still what wins wars. Don’t dull the blade with this crap.

    Talk about a doctrine and ROE that the enemy will use against us!

  • YNSN

    I hope to h311 I do not need to ever process such an award here in Kandahar.

  • dave against the liberals

    Arizona is right on! If u oppose the new law your either stupid,racist or illegal!If u belong here! Y wouldn’t u be proud 2 prove it??If u really want citizenship & earn it & are proud of it? Then u shouldn’t have 2 be asked! U should be walking around in public with it around your neck like a medal! U must prove who u are & where u came from! Y is that racist or wrong? You’ve all lost site! During WWII if u lived next 2 a suspected Nazi,would u be called a racist if u reported him? Your all morons & destroying this country!! F-U!!

  • Danny

    I find this ridiculous. This goes against everything that is taught to our military. On a humorous note, check out the mock up FL Pundit did of the medal. Hilarious!

  • Creating a medal for this purpose is not appropriate, in my opinion. Men in combat have always had to exercise judgment in the use of force and knowing when not to. I fear this award and the mentality and philosophy behind it will lead to the erosion of the aggressive mental edge needed by those actually at the squad and platoon level.

    And like most other “mandates from higher HQ” you will no doubt see careerist commanders (the term is meant to be as unflattering as it sounds) trying to curry favor with their restraint focused leaders by overemphasizing the medal/philosophy within their units and ensuring that the award is generously issued, with accompanying press releases and face time with the General, Colonel, etc.

    I’ve seen someting similar while I was a series officer at Parris Island in the 80’s. The CG and Recruit Training Regiment commander were trying to reduce recruit attrition (also known as “the guys who simply can’t hack boot camp”) because they were under pressure by HQMC on the issue. They chose a series which was led by a very weak lieutenant (he was held in low esteem by his peers) who had basically refused to drop recruits that failed to meet standards, etc. As a result his series had very low attrition at graduation. He was promptly awarded a Navy Achievement Medal for his dynamic leadership, innovative training methods….you get the picture. Mind you, this was in an era in which peacetime medals were almost never awarded. It was very common to see majors/lt. cols with a Sea Service ribbon and maybe an NUC or MUC from recruiting duty.

    As you might expect, this was viewed as scandalous by most officers and drill instructors and we looked at this lieutenant with great disfavor. He shrugged it off, knowing that he had made progress in his quest to be seen in a positive light by the senior commanders. Sadly, several other “career focused” officers and NSCO’s joined the club and decided that if the big guys wanted zero attrition, they would give it to them and naturally – be decorated for it. Before long the attrition rates dropped, as did the quality of recruit we were graduating. I often wonder how many of those recruits that were shuttled through the system, despite failing graded events, etc., were ultimately problem Marines for hard working NCO’s, etc.

    This is why I fear this medal. It has the potential to ruin the fighting spirit and attack mentality needed by front line troops. You cannot have fighting men approach an tactical situation with the knowledge that their commanders are going to second guess any aggressive action they take. It will simply be easier to “show restraint” and not invoke the ire of senior leaders for be “too aggressive”!

    Let us remember that Marines in Beirut, Lebanon were not allowed to have loaded weapons because “we are here as peace-keepers, and loaded weapons send a message to the locals that we are here to fight,etc…”

    A review of the facts will show that as the suicide bomber drove his truck past the Marine sentries on that fateful morning in October, 1983 he was dressed in a “death shroud” and smiling at the Marines, while they shouted warnings to their sleeping buddies and sruggled to load their weapons and get a few shots off at the truck.

    We all know how this story ended.

    War is about killing people trying to kill you.

    This will never change.

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    Well … it make a kind of sence when you have nitwits like this in the field ( but *I* think it would be much more effective to get people like that OFF the field.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    No Michael, it NEVER makes sense. Ever. It is antithetical to what makes a military force successful in a fight.