Let me show you my medals

Medals were a big deal in the Army. Probably still are. But I don’t really know the Army anymore. I got out eight years ago and these days soldiers wear uniforms they don’t have to press and boots they don’t have to shine. And now they have something called the Combat Action Badge which must drive the Infantry absolutely fucking nuts.

Anyway, medals. They were a big deal because they were shiny and colorful and if you wore your dress uniform to the bar back home, you could probably get yourself laid. And they were worth promotion points. The easiest way to get a medal was to change duty stations, to go from Fort Benning to Germany, or from Germany to Fort Knox. Sometimes, if you saved a dying baby, they might throw a medal your way, but generally that was considered only doing your job.

In Kosovo, I found myself in the middle of a swarming mob of angry Serbians. It was a strange place to be, but there I was. We were still a peacekeeping Army back then and instead of grenades and bullets and RPGs, they threw bricks and rocks and flowers pots. It was a very confusing time.

I don’t remember it, but something hit me in the face. Broke my front tooth clean in half. There was no blood, no bruising, it was strange. I must have been smiling at the Serbians, wondering why they were so mad, trying to show them that I was a nice person. At some point, I licked my lips, felt my missing tooth and leaned down into the truck. I tapped the commander on his shoulder and when he turned, I smiled and said, “What do you think, Sir? Can I get a medal?” “Goddamn,” he said, making me think it was much worse than it was.

Back on Bondsteel I went down to the medical tent where a dentist slapped a new tooth into my face and the commander put me in for the Purple Heart. It was, obviously, downgraded. I thought I might get an ARCOM for not spraying the crowd with two hundred 5.56mm jackets of lead. At least that was worth an AAM. But nope, a Certificate of Achievement. Signed by a light-colonel. It wasn’t even worth five-fucking-points. And certainly wouldn’t get me laid. Which made it absolutely worthless.

I liked telling this story in the backyards and on the balconies of the lazy Fort Knox. When some departing soldier was bitching about getting his ARCOM downgraded to an AAM. I would chuckle, finish my beer, get another, and say, “Boys, let me tell you about the time my Purple Heart got downgraded to a fucking COA.”

I still like telling this story today. But somehow, it just isn’t the same.

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