Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The importance of medals

Medals in the Navy has become a hot topic of late. One of the loudest arguments I hear is that we are becoming like the Air Force and giving medals away like candy, reducing their meaning. Other times I hear people shouldn't get medals for doing their jobs correctly, because that is why they get paid.

I can't obviously represent everyone's opinion here, and not being a Commanding Officer, I've not had the opportunity to really control the awards process. However, I want to make some points:

1. Medals are unique to the armed service. It's pretty hard to get medals that universally mean something to people in any other organization.
2. Medals are cheap. Let's be honest: it doesn't cost the government a whole lot to buy a medal and pin it on someone.
3. Medals can have a powerful impact on people. Not only does the recipient benefit by having it on his or her record, but the opportunity to hold up someone as a standard to measure other people's performance by in an organization is very powerful.

Awarding medals is one of many tools in a Navy leaders bag of management instruments. They should be used, purposefully, to identify top performers and set them apart from the mediocre or the "just getting by."

Right now, the issue we have is that awards are in most cases automatic, and are linked to paygrade and not performance. The only award I know of that has a rank restriction is the Navy and Marine Corp Achievement Medal (NAM), which requires you to be an O-4 or below.

So awards are important...but how do you increase your knowledge on them?

Go to the source:
On the right hand side is a link to the Navy Awards Manual, currently SECNAVINST 1650.1H. Download this, and enjoy! It has an explanation of every award you can get in the Navy. There are also some links to the governing DoD instruction...which isn't too useful unless you start working for a non-Navy boss.

Personally, I'm not happy with how our awards process currently operates. Besides linking awards to rank, we use too few spot awards and too many end of tour awards. I have seen more than a dozen sailors get their end of tour from their last command well after they have arrived at their new command, and the awarding process at that point loses it power. And with the hesitation to use spot awards, our leaders are reduced to giving a big public "Thank You" instead, which while that may be appropriate in many cases, it falls too short in too many others.

If I had the opportunity, I would change spot awards by readily polling the senior enlisted and junior officers to look for and nominate sailors that should receive a spot NAM. The power that a spot NAM has on team morale, and when done right how it can inspire others to work harder, is too often missed.

For end of tour awards, my criteria would be:
- If you performed at a promotable status your whole tour (and not just based on your FITREP/EVAL, since those too often get inflated) and you haven't done anything to better the organization you are leaving behind, you get a handshake. Sorry. You didn't do anything wrong...but more importantly, you didn't do anything outstanding. You did enough to garner your paycheck. Sadly, this is probably 20-30% of people.

- If you actually made positive contributions and made the place around you better for the organization (and not just by filling a seat), then the award that is often considered a standard for your position is appropriate for your end of tour award. What I've currently seen is achievement medals for E1-E6/O1-O3, commendation medals for E7-8/O3-4, meritorious service medals for O5/E9, and legion of merit for O6.

- If you really performed well and significantly improved the workplace, you should be considered for a medal that is normally reserved for a higher rank. This would be only about 10% of folks, but it would serve to tag them as stellar performers, and allows them to stand out during the promotion process and other reviews by detailers, so that they can be our future leaders.

I'll post more functional guidance on how to actually submit awards later this week.