Morale: No Place For Heroes

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October 2, 2015: There is another effort to get the U.S. government to allow military personnel to receive combat awards for bravery fighting terrorists and risking their lives outside of combat zones. The current drive is the result of an August, 2015 incident in which three Americans were lauded as heroes for charging and taking down an Islamic terrorist on a train in Belgium. The terrorist was armed with guns and a knife and one of the three Americans involved was badly injured. Two of those American were military (one air force and the other an army reservist with combat zone experience in Afghanistan). The current political debate is over whether the airman (Spencer Stone) is eligible for a combat valor award. Stone was awarded a Purple Heart (meant for combat wounds) but the U.S. government still refuses to recognize what he encountered as a combat situation. Most combat veterans disagree, pointing out that Stone took on an armed Islamic terrorist, helped subdue him and was badly injured by the terrorist in the process.

Stone’s air force job was medical technician, which involves operating and maintaining medical equipment. The air force thought enough of Stone’s bravery and initiative (including saving the life of another passenger who was also wounded by the terrorist and in danger of bleeding to death) by promoting Stone to NCO rank (Staff Sergeant) which takes him up two grades (E-3 to E-5). That means sergeant Stone now makes $6,000 more a year.  More importantly the young (23 year old) sergeant Stone is now seen by the air force as a resourceful, fearless and energetic team player able to succeed under stressful conditions.

It was only in early 2015 that the U.S. government finally agreed to award Purple Hearts for military personnel wounded by terrorists outside a combat zone. This decision was the result of years of public and political pressure resulting from a 2009 Islamic terrorist attack in Texas that left 13 dead and 32 wounded. The U.S. government continues to insist that this incident had nothing to do with religion but was simply a case of workplace violence. Many of the 32 surviving victims of the 2009 attack in Ft. Hood are complaining, without success, that they are receiving less attention (and money) for their injuries because they did not get a Purple Heart medal. The Purple Heart medal is the U.S. military award for combat wounds and it entitles soldiers to higher compensation and more prompt medical attention. The decision not to award Purple Hearts to the Ft. Hood victims is at the center of a controversy between politicians who are trying to play down the presence of Islamic radicalism in the United States and military leaders who want recognition for American troops killed or wounded by Islamic terrorism. While victims of domestic terrorism can receive the Purple Heart, the U.S. government has several times refused to categorize the November 5, 2009 attack in Ft. Hood as a terrorist action.

During the 2009 attack Nidal Hassan, a psychiatrist and army officer, shot and killed 13 people at a clinic and wounded 32, all the while yelling "God is great" in Arabic. It was later revealed that Hasan had a long history of Islamic radicalism, which his army superiors ignored. In an apparent effort to not offend Moslems, the U.S. government refused to designate Hasan's murders as terrorism. As a result the victims of Hasan’s attack feel they have been betrayed multiple times. First by Hasan’s military superiors who did nothing when confronted with years of Hasan’s quite public radicalization. Then the victims were betrayed by Hasan himself, a military officer and physician who took oaths to protect his fellow soldiers. There is also the justice denied aspect, with American soldiers being prosecuted much more quickly if they kill civilians (often by accident) than Hasan is for killing Americans. The Hasan trial was delayed several times before it finally got started in 2013 and Hasan was soon convicted.

This “is it terrorism” controversy has been going on since 2010. In 2013 Congress introduced a bill that would force the Department of Defense to follow its own regulations regarding military victims of terrorist attacks and give the Purple Heart to the Ft. Hood dead and wounded. In response to this Congressional effort, the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense had a “position paper” prepared that opposed the new law on the grounds that it would deny the attacker a fair trial.

France and Belgium recognized the August 2015 incident as combat and honored the three Americans as combat heroes bestowing awards given to those who risk their lives in combat. Most of the passengers on that train were French or Belgian and dozens would have died if the terrorist (a Moslem French citizen of Arab ancestry) had not been put out of action by the Americans (assisted by a British man and a French man who was shot). The U.S. government disagrees. Lawyers for the terrorist are trying to present their client, who was carrying an assault rifle, pistol, knife and over a hundred rounds of ammunition, as intent on robbing the passengers, not killing them. This was hard to believe, especially since French intelligence officials admitted that they knew the suspect was a known fan of Islamic terrorism.

 

 


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