Why the Combat Infantryman Badge Counts

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Cory Isaacs

No one cares about the Combat Infantryman Badge, a three-inch piece of black plastic some Army infantrymen wear on their uniforms.

Everyone should care that the infantrymen who wear it risked breaking their mothers’ hearts.

They went to war and knocked on death’s door.

But by denying the deserving and awarding the undeserving, the Army tells them their sacrifice means nothing.

On paper, the Army is supposed to award the CIB to Infantry soldiers who engage the enemy or are engaged by the enemy, front-liners under hostile fire in combat zones.

On paper.

On four separate occasions, a friend of mine was in a vehicle that struck an IED. Although he walked away on each occasion, seemingly none the worse for wear, after the fourth time a 30,000-pound, up-armored, hull-bottomed truck disintegrated around him, he was MEDEVAC-ed to ensure he hadn’t suffered a traumatic brain injury.

He did not receive a CIB.

Another friend’s vehicle hit an IED once. Although he too was uninjured, he was so homesick that three months after the IED attack, he used the attack as an excuse to try to get back home to see his family.

He received a CIB.

Still another friend spent our deployment in tennis shoes, gimping around camp on bad feet. One night he was in his room sleeping, when an RPG screamed into camp. The explosion awoke him, and no more.

He received a CIB.

During the same RPG attack, another friend was standing outside his room, no more than seven or eight meters from the RPG’s point of impact. The blast knocked him off his feet and covered him with debris, but he escaped injury.

He did not receive a CIB.

Another friend was involved in several firefights during our deployment. Not the kind of, quote, firefights in which fleeing insurgents fire a shot or drop a mortar from a mile away on their way into the mountains. I mean actual battles, firefights in which you’re on your stomach, keeping your head down, wishing you could burrow under ground, because bullets are snapping in the air above you and mortars are falling all around you; firefights in which you shoot at enemies you can actually see, enemies who are shooting at you, enemies who are trying to kill you.

He did not receive a CIB.

Another friend was involved in only one firefight, and in that one firefight he fired his machine gun not at insurgents, but at our allies, Afghanistan National Army soldiers he mistook for insurgents. As he reported later, by way of explanation, “Hey, they looked like Taliban to me.”

He received a CIB.

Another acquaintance, left back in camp on one of our deployment’s early missions, heard over the radio that the guys out on the mission were taking contact, i.e., involved in a firefight. Mortified, he ran to his room, curled up on the floor, relieved himself in his pants, and rocked himself to sleep. Hours later, the guys who went on the mission returned to find him still curled up in his room, still rocking, still sleeping, his pants still taking contact.

He received a CIB.

Other acquaintances received CIBs because other vehicles in the convoys in which they were traveling struck an IED. Not their vehicle; someone else’s vehicle. For example, the sixth vehicle in a 12-vehicle convoy hits an IED. Someone in the first vehicle, dozens of meters in front of the blast, receives a CIB; someone in the twelfth vehicle, dozens of meters behind the blast, receives a CIB; but someone in the sixth vehicle—the blown-up vehicle—may or may not receive a CIB.

Still others received CIBs because an insurgent-fired mortar landed just inside the perimeter of a rear-echelon base at which they were staying on their way back to their own front-line camp. They weren’t hurt—no one was hurt—and the awardees were not even aware anything had happened until weeks later, when, back at their own camp, they received CIBs for being personally present at and actively participating in an engagement.

Analogies are difficult here, but this is akin to getting a CIB for being in the Bronx when somebody throws a firecracker in Brooklyn, or to getting a Tony for playing King Lear on Broadway when you deserve an Olivier for playing Richard III in the West End.

Some infantrymen even received CIBs because someone in their brigade engaged the enemy. They didn’t engage the enemy; someone in their brigade engaged the enemy.

Not someone on their fire team, three to four people; or in their squad, seven to eight people; or in their platoon, 35 to 40 people; or in their company, 150 to 170 people; or even in their battalion, maybe 600 to 700 people; someone in their brigade, usually between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

That is a CIB by six degrees of separation.

When you see a CIB on an infantryman’s chest, you should know he has seen combat. When you do not see a CIB on an infantryman’s chest, you should know he has not seen combat.

The fact that you do not know cheapens the CIB and weakens morale.

The last 10 years have taught us that although many are not willing to fight for this country, a few are willing. I wish the last 10 years would have taught us that if we mistreat those who volunteer for our all-volunteer military force, we risk that they will stop volunteering. If enough of the few stop volunteering, we will be left with only the many.

Army Specialist Cory Isaacs is a Texas lawyer and an infantryman who earned, but did not receive, his CIB. He is a member of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, and is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The views expressed here are his own.

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