Exit Strategies

Medal of Restraint?

While conducting a military raid on a local police chief and a local prosecutor in Iraq, you may find yourself tempted to fire upon a pregnant mother of 10 and a pregnant mother of six. You may then be tempted to dig the bullets out of the corpses with a knife and make the murder look like an unrelated stabbing. These are on the job hazards of the modern military, I suppose.

But if you can resist the temptation, Uncle Sam may have a medal waiting for you back home

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.

Giving a medal for restraint was proposed by British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, ISAF's Regional Command South commander, during a recent visit to Kandahar by Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Hall, the top U.S. enlisted member in Afghanistan, Sholtis said. 

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the ISAF commander, has placed a premium on preventing civilian deaths, having last year tightened the rules of engagement for air strikes and other combat operations in an effort to prevent fatalities. Such deaths build resentment among a populace the U.S. is trying to win over as part of its counterinsurgency strategy to simultaneously drive out the Taliban and strengthen Afghan government.

I'm sure our occupied brethren (/facetious) in Mesopotamia will sleep easier tonight.