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Medal Fever

Some Canadian civil servants who have worked in Afghanistan were up in arms recently because they're no longer entitled to a medal. When the Canadian military was running things the civil servants were considered to be on attachment to it and were therefore entitled to the General Service Medal if they were in the area for thirty days or more. The folks working in the Canadian-owned coffee and doughnut shop at the Kandahar military base are entitled to the medal. But recently it was decided that the civil servants were no longer on attachment to the military.
I have a bit of problem with medals. Either you get them just for showing up – I sometimes feel judging by the slab of ribbons on a U.S. general's chest that they get a medal for every day they turn up for work – or they frequently go to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. A lot seems to depend on being seen doing the right thing by the right person at a time when the medal award quota still has to be filled. Bradford and Dillon's book on SAS hero Paddy Mayne (see Book Briefing) reveals a very deliberate attempt to push all the right buttons to win him a Victoria Cross, even if it meant changing the facts of what happened.
As a former journalist, I always had reservations about the Young Journalist of the Year competition. There was a lot a prestige attached to the paper that employed the winner. Some papers were unable to resist the temptation: the story came from a senior editor, the newsdesk led the young reporter through the fact-gathering process by the hand, and the eventual story owed more to the skills of the paper's best sub-editor than the writing ability of the award nominee. About the only contribution to the winner made was the use of his/her name as a by-line.
On the other hand, when the Canadian soldiers of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry stationed at Kandahar in 2002 decided they'd like a Combat Infantry badge similar to the one sported by the members of the US 101st Airborne they were serving alongside, I gave them sympathetic coverage. They wanted some extra acknowledgement that unlike the bulk of the Canadian troops stationed at Kandahar they left the comparative safety of the base on a regular basis and therefore were putting their lives on the line more often. If that's what they really wanted, who was I to discourage them? But I wasn't going to campaign for a Combat Reporter badge for journalists who “went outside the wire” on a regular basis.


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