Fake Awards

“Do not spread false reports.  Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.

  • Exodus 23:1

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

  • Genesis 3:1-4

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.  But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.  You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.  In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.  I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

  • John 8:7-18

In thinking of an old memory, I seem to never get awarded for something without getting knocked down at the same time.  I got my Eagle Scout rank in just four months more than the minimum timeframe, and my mother spews venom when she finds out asking, in a public setting, “What happened to those four months?!”  Then, I got deathly ill with a virus the evening after I was commissioned as an Army officer and graduated top in my class for my degree program  in college, all in the same day.  There was always something.  And at least once, the knocking me down included fake news.

When most young lieutenants start out in the Army, they do not get rewarded at the end of their first duty assignment, especially in peace time.  Since I had taken a graduate school deferment, I was a captain by the time I had been in the service for three years, but that three years also included my time as a newbie lieutenant, platoon leader, vertical construction platoon.  And in spite of all the training, you still make rookie mistakes.

I served in an Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy).  That used to be called “construction engineers,” but they changed the name to remind us that in wartime, we were just like the regular combat engineers, but with bigger toys, “toys” meaning earthmovers with twice the capacity or more, bulldozers, frontend loaders, dump trucks, etc.  I had a “vertical” platoon.  That meant that my guys built the bridges, buildings, fences, electrical distribution, etc., leaving the roadways and large ditches to the earth moving platoon.  That did not prevent me from learning how to survey on my first job, to cure the lousy site drainage problem, and then have one of my guys operate a backhoe and grader.  Frankly, I could have operated the grader, but my platoon sergeant would not let me do it – “not work becoming of an officer, Sir.”  I loved him like an older brother, but at times he was a killjoy.

The battalion always had a going away present for each officer, a framed citation, of sorts, as a reminder of all the bone-headed mistakes that were made by him or his platoon.  At the Hail and Farewell where I was to be presented this award, so that everyone could laugh at my lack of achievements, I failed to appear.  My wife could not find babysitting, and she was not feeling well anyway.

A day or two later, I had been told to wear my class A uniform and report to the colonel’s office.  That is all that I knew.  When I arrived, the room was packed with colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors.  I think a general that I had met at Corps headquarters was there, but I was so floored by this “surprise party” that I cannot remember everyone.  There might have been one or two other captains in the room.  No lieutenants were there to remember their own mistakes, no one there to laugh.  The colonel called me to attention and then read a citation.  I had just been awarded the Army Commendation Medal.  Some folks, usually those who do not have one, called it the “Greenie Wienie.”

In the citation, it talked of me jumping into a job that should have been over my head, running the civilian Facilities Engineering office, but I succeeded, within budget, maintaining the military community that went from the Swiss border to just south of Heidelberg and from just west of Stuttgart to a little east of Kaiserslautern, mostly countryside with a lot of hidden installations.  I had personally worked at wheeling and dealing to get the first Congressional appropriations, about $10 million over two years, to repair and improve facilities – first appropriations for our community since World War II reconstruction more than 30 years before.  I had built the German employees a cantina for their lunch break with practically no budget, calling in favors for the labor.  I had done the same thing again for the temporary infirmary while the old one was gutted and rebuilt.  As the colonel finished reading the citation, there were murmurs around the room, supposedly saying, ‘well deserved award.’  The Colonel then stated that this should have been a Meritorious Service Medal, the highest medal awarded in peacetime, but the Corps headquarters in Heidelberg downgraded it.  The ARCOM is the next award on the list, not a bad decline, but the Colonel was disappointed.  The Colonel got his star with his next assignment.  He then had more clout.

But after reading the ARCOM citation is when everything totally fell apart.  Since I had not been to the Hail and Farewell, my farewell, my immediate boss, who I had worked for as the Facilities Engineer, doing all the stuff mentioned above, and who had moved on to be the battalion commander of the battalion that I was just leaving…  I know, it was confusing, working fulltime in a military community role while attached to a military unit, with two sets of bosses.  No, my best boss ever who presented the second award, who worked for the other best boss ever who just presented the first award, got up and read my battalion survivor award – all the mistakes I had made as a newbie lieutenant.  The opposite of the accomplishments for which I had just received a medal.

I hereby state that the “achievements” on the “survivor award” list are just like what the serpent told Eve.  The serpent told Eve things that were true, things that were half-truths, and things that were false.  Yes, some of my beloved guys in the platoon lied.

Welcome to my survivor award.  My fake award.  I know, I am volunteering to torture myself with “fake news” about me.  Actually, I am not repeating the citation wording, that being lies, but I am correcting the false information.  Why repeat lies?

The first one is half-true.  I did install piping in a nonconventional way and was secretly told by the customer that if I had not had a leak, it would have been masterful ingenuity.  At the end of our budget on my first military project ever…  We were out of budget, because there was hardly any budget left when I took over the project at about 75% complete and 98% budget spent.  Adding insult to injury, we had to tie in the boiler (heat for a large compound) that had just been installed by an outside contractor, something the contractor was required to do, but left without doing.  We had some pipe, but we had no plumber (thus I could not have damaged his morale as the citation said), and we had no way to seal the threads on the fittings (no money to buy pipe dope).  So, I used a brazing iron and wicked welding rod metal into each thread.  Of the five or six fittings, one had a tiny slow drip.  And the drip only occurred during the pressure test at 150% of normal pressure.  It would have never leaked under normal operations.  As for the cabinet with the drainpipe, I cut a smaller hole than most find under their kitchen sink, but the sergeant who had made the cabinet without using a single nail still cried.  Hey!  He knew what the cabinet was being made to do!  These were on the same job, but not even in the same room of the veterinary hospital that we had just built for guard dogs, drug sniffing dogs, and bomb sniffing dogs.

The next one, I ordered water during a beer frame because I do not drink beer and with my GERD, water was all that the bowling alley had that I could drink on my restricted diet.  That did not stop a Lt. Colonel from taking my water to the bathroom, then turning around and announcing to the entire league, “Hey, Lt., here’s your water,” and then proceeding to pretend to zip up his pants.  My reply at the time was, “Sir, if you think getting me water for a beer frame is beneath you, then do not lose the beer frame next time.”  Hey, I was not a good bowler, but for our team, I was the anchor, having the best average.  Even then, we were not the “Wurst.”  The team known as the “Wurst” were among the LTCs and majors in the room listening to the citation being read, the brigade staff’s team.

The project that I visited only twice in six months was not my assigned project.  Half my men were on the project site, but I was working another construction project full time and also acting as the company’s executive and construction officer, acting company commander as the real company commander was always absent, and whenever NATO needed an officer who had a Cosmic clearance, I got called for that.  I think two visits to the site was pretty good under the circumstances.  This one was accurate in what was said, but horribly misleading and the one that personally caused me pain as it was read.

I did not lose the NCO efficiency reports in my briefcase for 4 months, but I did have to scramble to get them in on time.

The “boat that never sailed” was due to an unscrupulous boat captain that overbooked the boat after I had bought enough tickets to make the cruise exclusively for a battalion Hail and Farewell.  Our party could not all get on the boat due to safety concerns, beyond capacity.  When we realized that only a few could get on the boat and we would have to stand for four hours after being guaranteed a seated dinner and dance cruise along the Rhein River, we went elsewhere and had a wonderful time.  It is called “flexibility.”

Yes, I did write a target portfolio on a culvert site instead of a bridge.  That one was on me, but the road was iced over, condition red, and we should have never gotten to where we were, yet another kilometer further there was this beautiful bridge that I could have blown up.

The light fixtures were installed according to the design drawn by one of the majors that was in the room, laughing, when I was having this read to me, but he said nothing, obviously.

When you are given eight-foot fencing material and six-foot fence posts, you get creative.  That was not a mistake, just working with what you had to work with.

And finally, I never got lost in Lampertheim with a map in my hand.  A bald-faced lie.  I created the orienteering course and had to go find the sergeant who was lost.  In the “citation,” the story got reversed, to save the sergeant’s career.

Okay those are my defenses for each item on the list, but as the big brass came by to congratulate me on getting the Army Commendation Medal, one major spit in my general direction and said that to be such a general screw up (but he used harsher language) it was a dishonor to all Army officers that I would get the Army Commendation Medal and he would love to rip it off my chest, but he would not in respect to the Colonel.  I had no idea who he was.  I had never worked with him.  The next officer in line was the Colonel’s executive officer, who I had worked with a lot, and he said to not pay attention to the major as he just arrived that morning from the USA and the Colonel made him come to the ceremony, regardless of how jet-lagged he might have been.

But at that moment, I wanted to rip the medal from my chest.

I had wanted to conclude with words about not judging people unless you know the facts and only then if you are without sin yourself.  That is the reason for the John 8 Scripture above, with Jesus showing mercy to the woman caught in adultery and then following with a lesson to His disciples on being a good judge.

But I stopped writing the article about halfway through to take a video break.  In random searching for something to watch, I watched a talk by Ken Davis at the First Baptist Orlando church.  His second point in a fairly serious talk (serious for a comedian) was to not be afraid to fail and to not hide your failures.  He quoted Romans 3:23 and then Romans 6:23, the first half.  We have all sinned and the wages of sin is death.  But, then he said that there was a comma after the word death.  The wages of sin is death, and then comes the most beautiful word in the New Testament “, but.”  I know grammar check will get confused, but I had to include the comma.  R. C. Sproul also wrote that “, but” was the most beautiful part of the New Testament, maybe about the same verse.  The wages of sin is death ”, but” the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.  A beautiful “, but” indeed.

So, for forty years, I have hidden the battalion survivor award.  It would be too hard to have it on my office wall and then defend each “heinous crime.”  But, Ken Davis said to not hide my failures, even when there were lies within half of the nine items in the citation, misdirection in others, and one real bone-head mistake had extenuating circumstances, with mountainous roads covered in ice.  All had stories.

So, if you are not perfect, and there was only One who was perfect during His life on earth, do not hide your failures, because those failures qualify you to receive God’s Grace.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. Love your stories. I think from what you shared I think the ARCOM you got was deserved given the scale of what you were doing and for an LT!
    This post reminded me of a memory I’ve not thought about for a while. I’ve always felt awkard wearing the Dress Blue as I do have more medals and ribbons than most of my peers in the unit, having to do with a lot of being at the right place at the right time with what our unit was doing rather than something I’ve done. I’m a small guy and I get a feeling of awkwardness even when I was a Sgt.
    When I was in Iraq with the Marines my partner and I was the only radio operators in our BN that got a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, equivalent of an Army Achievement Medal. I don’t know why the Marines love to knock know medal recommendations always one lower than what was written up so guys who were recommended for bronze star got a Navy Commendation Medal, and down it goes even a NAM with a Combat V device got demoted to a Certificate of Commendation.
    One of the Marine radio operator saved an officer’s life by shooting an insurgent that was attacking the attached JAG officer. His NAM got bumped down to a certificate; I mean you can’t even wear a certificate and everyone laughed about it. So when the BN gave me a NAM I felt guilty since guys more deserving didn’t get any recognition.
    On the flip side I had an infantry SGT use to rag on me a lot for being a radio operator and not a grunt. When we came back from our first deployment he saw I had a NAM and asked me what it was about. I thought he was going to rag on me again so I told him it was for the first three weeks when we were in Iraq in 2003 my partner and I didn’t sleep or barely slept as we somehow always manage to be in a position where we were relaying messages all day and night between different sections in our BN but also between our BN and other adjacent units, and even at one point establishing SATCOM back to Central Command in Florida. These message relays were not routine but was urgent and involved our unit being in contact and also MEDEVACs. I also told him it was whatever and other guys deserved it more and I didn’t deserve it. He actually didn’t grill me that time but paused and said he was talking to me and didn’t realize I was on the other end speaking to him and relaying his message as his platoon couldn’t get a hold of their company commander for an emergency MEDEVAC but somehow they could talk to our company and we had comm with both their company CO and that platoon. He said these works are good things and to wear it not with an EGO but also remember what good was done for other Marines’ lives. That word from that SGT meant more than the Medal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, what a story, and a special thank you for your service. We could have used you in our engineering battalion. One of my secret missions (not enough said here to betray anything) was to go various places in West Germany, get info, do some engg reconn along the way and set up radio comm with the home base. The radios in the mid 70s were Vietnam leftovers, too weak to transmit that far. We had to string a directional antenna in a sport field based on my calculations on the direction. We never heard back from our transmission, because their “directional” antenna was 90 degrees out of whack, but our patrol was the only one that successfully got the radio message delivered. If that had been the real thing, we would have been operating blind. You guys are life savers.

      Liked by 1 person

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