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Settling the Combat Action Ribbon Debate Once and for All

CAR Marines

So the Marine Corps Times ran an article this week with a picture of a Combat Action Ribbon, henceforth referred to as CAR, and the title “No CAR, No Respect: ending the Ribbon Rack divide.”  Now, for those that don’t know, the CAR is what is bestowed upon a Marine after participating in actual ground combat.  You see, you could be deployed to Iraq, spend your time on a fortified base pushing paper, and no CAR.  Or, you could have the enemy fire upon you, you fire back, and voila CAR.  That is an oversimplified explanation as I couldn’t tell you word for word the criteria, but hopefully you get the gist. Bottom line, it is a valued ribbon in the Marines and it has led some to believe that after 14 years of war, if you don’t have one, then you don’t rate.  Well, since I know the Marine Corps relies on obscure blogs such as this one to settle such debates, let me help out the Commandant and do so.  After all, he is a regular reader of this blog.  That’s a lie.  I don’t know that at all actually.

Of Course a CAR Matters

Look, every Marine wants a CAR.  Love it or hate it, it’s true.  You don’t join the Marines in any capacity if at some level you don’t really want to experience combat.  Yes, even the POG admin boot has dreams of somehow delivering a government issued black pen under heavy artillery bombardment.  The Marine Corps makes no qualms about who they are and always have been.  Namely, a life taking organization and you join it for that reason alone.

CAR

Consequently, it is congruent that the service should have an award such as the CAR to recognize those whom have actually done so.  Now, I don’t want you take this statement as some intentional slight against Persons Other than Grunts, aka, POGs.  I made in clear in my article, A POG by Any Other Name, that all jobs in the Marines play their role in war.

However, I also said that the Marines should and rightly do glorify the Infantry.  It is who we are and the Marines should take no shame in that.  But POGs can earn a CAR as well.  Thus, it is much the same with the CAR.  Yes, the Marines should make some sort of deal about those whom have actually done that which the entire Marine Corps exists to do in the first place.  It makes Chesty proud and hippies sad. I call it a win-win.

Be Cool Man

That being said, be cool Marines, be cool. Honestly, every last one of you whether you be with CAR or not.  Dakota Meyer and Kyle Carpenter are living Marine legends with Medals of Honor and yet they act with more humility than some CAR carrying Marines these days.  Be cool man.

Medal of Honor Marines

You should be proud of your CAR and I don’t care if you give non-CAR Marines a hard time about it. My brother was a Marine Grunt in the late nineties and I’ll find a way to turn a conversation about cat food into a reminder to him that he didn’t experience combat.  He hates it, I love it, and thanksgiving has been more fun ever since my war.

That being said, my brother was an excellent Marine and is currently an excellent cop in a very dangerous city in America.  If you give my brother my war experience, he probably tracks down Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden himself.  However, we will never know because it was not in the cards for war to be during his season. He wished it were so as many do, but he has no reason to hold his head any lower. So if you are a cocky lance corporal fortunate enough to have old rich men decide it was time to go to war when you were in, then brag all you want.  Just be cool about it and don’t be a dick. Unless it is to your brother, then you know, fair game.

A CAR by Any Other Name

You see, I rate a CAR and thus you may think I am biased.  But here is the thing that makes it interesting.  I don’t know if I have one.  Three weeks after returning from Iraq in 2003, my time was up and I was out of the Marines never to put on the uniform again.  Full disclosure, I tried to put on my dress blues recently, but they must have shrunk while sitting in my closet these past 12 years.

Point is, every member of my platoon rightly earned a CAR for our experiences in 2003 Iraq, yet I assume because I was out when the paperwork was pushed, I have no idea if it is on my final record or not. It wasn’t on my DD214 when I got out in 2003 and I honestly don’t care.  Ok maybe a little, but deep down, I don’t care. It is not like I am the first person to have admin screw up my junk.  I’ll always value my actual experiences more than earthly good destined to rot after I am gone.

Iraq 2003

But I stand by my experiences and will point you to any member of my platoon to testify to it.  That being said, does it seem crazy to anyone that my mundane experience of combat rates a CAR the same as those who stormed the streets of Tet, froze their junk off at the Choisen Reservoir, or fought for the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima?  You see, someone reading this blog right now has a CAR and like me, realizes, that greater men than them earned that same multi-colored ribbon over much harsher real estate.  So if you have one, be proud, but be cool brothers.  We got the war of our time, not the one of our choosing.

Stop Whining

That being said, I want to wrap this up with a message to non-CAR Marines.  Stop whining.  Seriously, If I find out that one of the Marines complaining about this CAR divide was a man whom knowingly enlisted as admin in a time of War, I am going to cry for my beloved Corps.  Don’t give me some crap about your high ASVAB score.  Bottom line,  if you wanted to take lives you could have, but you chose otherwise.

Marines are always going to give each other a hard time and after 14 years of War, if you don’t have a CAR, well, life is going to suck a little bit for you until the next war.  Come to terms with it as you must.  Yet, be proud of your service.  Currently today we salute our Vietnam Veterans for all their sacrifice, yet they had POGs back then too.  They just called the REMF from what I can tell. But If I see you as a 19 year old Marine with a CAR disrespecting a Vietnam Vet because he pushed paper in Saigon, I am going to hold you down until the grey haired REMF gets his first kill.

Military shadow box - flag display case - Freedom Display Cases

Be cool, everyone. CAR, non-CAR, POG, REMF, stop being a dick, stop whining, and just be cool.  Marine cool, but still cool. The Marines will glorify their infantry and their combat vets as they rightly should.  If I could pick between leadership with a CAR or without a CAR, I pick a CAR hands down.  Yet, as Marines, we serve when and where we are told.  Marines who served during peace should wear their Eagle Globe and Anchor with pride and swagger. You earned it.  Consequently, I expect a Marine admin message from the Commandant to come out shortly with the following message, be proud, respect experience, and yet, be cool, all of you.  Because somewhere, Dan Daley with his two Medals of Honor is looking down on all of us as a bunch of non-rates.

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Jeff Edwards

41 Comments

  1. Don’t forget Smedley Butler and his two Medal of Honors, he was the original Maverick Marine!
    Great Article! I always wanted the Combat Infantry Badge to be awarded to Marine Infantry instead of the CAR. My maternal grandfather got his CIB posthumously KIA 3/14/1945, Antipolo, the Philippines, defeating a dawn Jap Banzai Attack with his buddy Earl Brake, DSC, 103 Inf, 43 ID, part of McArthurs Return to the Phillipines.
    URAH!

    • Smedley Butler is indeed the man as well. That is a good point about the brothers in arms who don’t get to brag about their combat because they paid the ultimate price earning it. Thankful for your Grandfather.

      • Yeah Jeff, we are all haunted to a certain extent for medals that were earned for us, by the real heroes . . . the guys who never came back. My grandfather left behind left a pregnant wife and two kids who never got to know their father. His story is even more remarkable, because when his draft notice came in 1944 (he tried to enlist earlier in the war but they would not take him as a married man in ’41-’43) his mother ordered him to give up his Green Card and go back to Mexico, and he defied his mother and he said, “This is my country now!” He chose his new country and his “new family” . . . his brother in arms over a mother’s pleas, and he paid the ultimate price. Everyone descended from that man has done our best to live up to his sacrifice. But like my Mom, I wish I had had a chance to meet John V. Gallardo, my grandfather. My bucket list includes in the top ten, visiting my grandfather’s resting place in the US Cemetery In Manilla. http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/WWII_108516#.VRtnd1p0srg.

        I forgot to mention his other posthumous award- the Purple Heart, that is awarded to members of our Killed In Action Armed Forces of the United States. he died like you lived, Jeff, as a Combat Infantryman, US Army, 43rd Infantry Division, “Winged Victory” Division. The brutal combat that took his and Earl Brake’s life, in the foothills of Antipolo, Manilla was every bit as nasty as the anything the Marines experienced in their Island Hopping Campaign. To kick the Japs out of the Philippines we lost 14,000 Americans KIA, and another 62,514 WIA from Oct 20th, 1944 to the end of WWII, August 15, 1945.

        The Purple Heart:
        “The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who after 5 April 1917 have been wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States or an opposing armed force, while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict, as the result of acts of enemy or hostile opposing forces, as a result of terrorist attacks or attacks on peacekeeping forces since 28 March 1973, or by friendly fire in circumstance as described above.”

      • OK Jeff, so I have a question for you and everyone who earned a CAR . . . so is someone who is wearing a CAR lapel pin (like the American Flag Lapel) on their suit jacket (instead of the American or Marine Corps Flag) a Tool?

        Just wondering what the CAR community here thinks is Cool vs Tool when exhibiting your CAR in civvy clothing or on a Car Bumper sticker?
        TIA
        Lance

        • That is a good question. If it were me, I woudln’t do it. I like to wear my Marine Corps swag from time to time as a Veteran, but I have always been a much more subtle person. The truth is, no one in the civilian world would really have any clue what that CAR is, so the real hope when one wears it is that another Marine sees it and takes notice.

          If you want to wear it because you are proud and just could care less what others think, then be cool in your own way. However, if you just want everyone to look at you and awe, then it becomes less cool and more tool in my mind.

          Others might can weigh in, but that is where my mind leads me. So truthfully, it just boils down to your intent.

          Eitherway, never outsource your pride or self-respect to others. Whether they see it or don’t see your CAR, you know what you did and that is what should matter most. Good question though man.

          • I my wore field jacket with its CID and regimental crest for quite some time after coming home in 1971, it was like a friend…. I am no hero. But I did earn a CIB. I wear a VN Veterans Cap every damned day and will till I drop dead. Why? To this DAY it POs the liberals. I see in their faces when shopping in our liberal college town over the pass and other vets have told me the same thing. I am one of the most discriminated against groups in the US. Service in VN was used by prosecutors after the VN war to aid in getting convictions. After WW-II defense attorneys used military service to gain acquittal. I know people, some with multiple valor awards that TO THIS DAY will not let anyone know they served in VN. My brothers were spit on, attacked verbally or physically, had blood thrown on them. I was only shouted at with a fist shake from a moving vehicle when I was in uniform before I went over. Then there was the aid and comfort to the enemy. I was given a letter from the Army detailing how if I allowed my parents address to get into the hands the enemy they would pass it on to the communist dupes in America and they would call my parents with false KIA reports or other harassment. So I burnt every letter I received in VN after reading it a time or two. Then there was the “after action” thing where Doc came over where I was trying get the blood off my hands with little water to drink much less wash telling of searching a dead NVA medic. He said that it Kinda pissed him off thinking the drugs the gook was carrying could have been sent over by the war protestors back in the world. Yeah I am STILL P!SSED. My only regret is we did not kill 2 million Commie NVA over the course of the war instead of 1 million. And I will keep right on wearing that baseball cap with a “mess dress” size CIB and the 61st inf crest and anyone that don’t like it can kiss where I can’t. I owe it to the guys who did not get to come home to make damned sure people get reminded now and then. BTW 4/5ths of the people claiming to be VN vets are wannabes now. Funny guys that went hide it and those that did not want to get credit…. So if you have orders for CAR or a CIB wear it with pride. Most people don’t know what it is, including a lot of wannabes…

          • Brother that is an awesome testimony. I have no doubt when you wear it, it is due to pride and the desire to honor those whom were disrepseted in your generation of warriors. My and my generation will forever be thankful for how you mighty men paved the path for us. That is a great perspective and I’m glad you shared it.

          • Awesome Daniel. My neighbor across the street was a combat MP in Vietnam in 1968 and he was in some some heavy fighting in and around Saigon during the TET Offensive. He told me when he got back stateside in San Francisco, at the Airport, the GIs were strongly recommended to change out of their uniforms at the airport, and they had this warehouse full of goodwill clothes for newly arrived GIs from Nam, so you didn’t get spit on or harassed when you transitioned to your next destination. Fucking unbelievable! You go on wearing your CIB and regimental crest and Vietnam Vet Cover with pride. I had extended family that served in Vietnam and in the military during the War, step-father, uncle, lots of cousins, including one who served as a combat medic in the Americal Division – he saw a lot of boys die in front of him, and in his arms, as a Army Medic. No one should go through what you did and what my cousin did, and come home to the hatred and abuse of their fellow citizens. I remember when I was on Active Duty as a Marine JAG stationed on the West Coast that the Gulf War I vets came home to public parades and accolades in 1991 and it chokes me up writing this to remember the Vietnam Vets welcoming home the Desert Shield/Desert Storm Vets because they wanted to make sure that what happened to them did not happen to the Gulf War Vets. The Gulf War vets often told them, “Shit, you deserve this parade at lot more then we do!” They younger vets were often embarrassed at how much acclaim they got, when they knew the Vietnam Vets went through world of hurt in Vietnam and here at home as well , and they never got no damn parade much less a public “Welcome Home!” from most of the country. To this day, I see Vietnam Vets fighting for disability ratings with the VA who saw a helluva a lot more combat in a year in Vietnam than most GWOT vets have seen in multiple deployments. There was a time at the height of Vietnam War when we were losing 200 GIs and Marines & Sailors and Airmen a WEEK/800 plus Americans a month!
            God Bless you for serving in Vietnam and Welcome Home!

    • Hi Lance,
      I grew up in Antipolo from age 5-18. I know that town like the back of my hand. I’ll read up on his whereabouts in Antipolo that mornin and I’ll see if I can get some pics for you of where he was- back then it was mostly hills and undeveloped areas. I’ve been to the cemetery in Manila many times and made a point to walk past every grave when I was little.

  2. From a career squid that carried life takers to the beach in an LCU, I thoroughly enjoyed that. I never hit a hot beach but did have 45 seconds in Haiti with authorization to start an international incident.

    Loved the image of an admin type delivering a Skilcraft govt issue pen through an artillery barrage. And the best line ever; It makes Chesty proud and hippies sad! Of course that’s a win-win!

    If the Commandant doesn’t read this blog, he should.

    • Thanks man. I definitely think we all play our part, and certainly those that deliver Marines to the hot spots of the world! If you know the commandant feel free to to point him toward the blog.

  3. My Son got back from A-Stan in November and came home with a nice stack. But alas, no CAR. I felt happy that he was safe but a little sad for him that he didn’t get one because it was all he wanted. So daddy gets to pick at him a little, albeit half heartedly. It was the only ribbon I wanted for my time in the Corps. And of course we would follow Gunny Highway over Major Powers any day. For the most part the CAR says you were tested, crapped your pants, but did what was needed anyway. There are some exceptions. And we didn’t earn ours at nearly the price that others paid. It was the only war we had and we had to make the best of it. and FYI Jeff, you officially have one too. I happen to be in possession of the BN Roster of who did and who didn’t. I will be more than happy to correct that admin snafu and get you records amended. Your 214 was probably filled out by some REMF POG who hated on you because he didn’t rate a CAR.

    • Ooh Rah Gunny. Glad you got the roster! I never thought much about trying fix my piece of paper knowing that others paid a heavier price for it. but if the men of 2nd Platoon know what I did, I’ll go to my grave a happy man. If people call me out on this blog, I’ll point them in your direction for a testimony.

    • Oh, and you should definitely give your son a hard time. Its all part of the fun in family.

  4. Like you I also got out quick fast in 2003 after serving my time in iraq and didnt have diddly on my dd-214. Got an email from a lifer friend whom I was deployed with after seeing my dress blues photos from last uears ball and he said “dude where’s all your fruit salad?” I said huh looking at the picture with my 4 ribbons… He then informed me about the dd-215 which i requested and apparently there’s a lot more. Did me not having a CAR on my chest these past 11 years change anything about me? Nope not at all,does having one now as a pog change a thing about me? Nope not at all. Outstanding article and extremely well written.

    • Thanks man, that is good info. I honestly just never checked and didn’t want to tackle the red tape to figure it out. Like you said, your experiences matter more than whats on paper. No one can dispute our memories. Thanks for the feedback on the article. Semper Fi Brother.

      • Not too much red tape. In fact a service officer from a local DAV/VFW/American Legion/AMVETs (you don’t have to be a member) can help, or a county service officer, or a constituent advocate at your federal Representative or Senators office can handle it all for you. You complete a standard Privacy Act release for them, and they send it and a letter to the National Personnel Record Center who audits your SRB and determines eligibility to any awards/medals not appearing on your 214. Then they cut a 215.

        I was in ’01-’05 and had my Rep’s office handle it for me. Got another campaign ribbon with a couple service stars out of the deal. We can’t leave the memories behind when we go, but I’ve seen a lot of families who cherish those bits of colored ribbon and brass after a veteran passes.

        Also, every veteran is eligible to have their medals and ribbons reissued at No Expense to him or her. Same source: National Personnel Record Center. Takes 3-6 months and can only be used once in a life-time. They’re not anodized, and keeping with what you would expect from the branches, Army and Air Force will reissue everything, Navy will reissue most stuff and Marine Corps tells you you’re on your own when it comes to badges and additional uniform devices. Hell, they couldn’t even be bothered to include all of my bronze star apertures (out-of-stock at time of request) but it’s something for a shadow box or a shoe box.

        http://www.archives.gov/veterans/replace-medals.html

        • that is excellent information. I may very well follow up on that. It would be nice to have it settled and official I guess. Thanks man.

          • Just trying to get the info out to as many people as possible. Yut

  5. I’m a Nam Marine and I’ll say to you the same thing I tell all the Afghan and Iraqi vets I talk to. Quit whining about medals, how awkward it feels to be thanked for your service, PTSD, how do I get a larger disability check…..enjoy it all now. Because in ten years, NOBODY IS GOING TO GIVE A DAMN!!!

  6. I was Army infantry, so I have a shiny CIB. I wish the Corp honored combat with a nicer award.

    • That database is incomplete. I have a CAR along with my other decorations listed on my DD214 but no record on that site. Hell it even asks you for the last four of your SSN. We had 7 digit serial numbers when I was in the Corps.

      That site is not a reliable source.

  7. The CAR is a big deal and I salute you all that have it. I was an 0351 and don’t have a CAR. Got out right before Gulf War I and got called back to active duty with the replacements. Even tried to go over to Kuwait with my regular unit, Oohrah 3/9, but was turned down. The ground war ended so quickly once it started that they sent us home.

    After 9/11/01 I tried to come back but after eleven years of broken service the Corps said no way. Hell even the Coast Guard wouldn’t take me.

    Like it says in the article fate chooses the wars when you happen to serve. All of you that have a CAR though just know that I salute you, and I’m kinda jealous. And you have earned every right to talk a little smack.

  8. Again, as always, a great read Jeff. I am in the same club with your brother. I was 0311 ’83-89. no CIB. I had to fight the recruiters to get infantry because of my ASVAB score. I was at the MEPS center for 2 hours having every officer in the building asking me “why do you want Infantry?” “with your scores we can get you any school” I kept telling them that “that was not why I was enlisting in the Corps. I turned down scholarships to do this” (I know, young and dumb). finally they sent in a old, salty Sgt Major. He sat down, waited for the officers to leave the room, and then looked me in the eye and said” now that they’re gone, I’m going to tell you don’t need to listen to them, if you want infantry then you go infantry. now, we’re going to sit here a couple minutes and I am going to go out and tell them I couldn’t change your mind” I stuck to it and proudly served as an 0311. I eventually earned 3 bachelors and a masters degree and teach high school math (calculus and precalculus) so it all worked out. but I still don’t have a CIB and, as you said, I have had to come to terms with the fact I didn’t have a choice in that matter. I did my best to do my part. still…..

    • That is motto that you stuck to infantry. It always bothers me when people think that Grunts are dumb. Hats off to that salty Sgt Major who knew how to handle those officers.

  9. Fanfu€kingtastic article.. Any word if the Army will follow up with its version of CAR ribbon

  10. Great Story, horrible grammar. Whom should not be used to make a sentence sound more colorful. It should be used correctly so that people focus on your message, not your language.

    • HA, fair enough man. I will fully admit I might have some grammatical struggles. But I am getting better believe it or not. I do have many fans, but it is true, the grammar nazies who follow me sacrifice the most. I appreciate you reading.

  11. Stay frosty my Brothers. Always remember, CAR or no CAR your still a Marine and EVERYBODY wants to be you.

  12. JD SHORT MARINE 1961 to 1966 IN THE DOMINCAN REPUBLIC. PINED BY. REBELS MACHINE GUNFIRE GERNADS MICKLE FERHER KIA NO ONE GIVE IS THE. COMBAT ACTION RIBBON

  13. I would Like to apply for the CAR for some ANGLICO Marines during Tet, they were with the ROK Marines, and never received recognition.
    Any help would be appreciated
    My email us
    Dcblose@hotmail.com
    I have a CAR, service in Viet Nam. Easter Offensive 1972
    Dean Losee

  14. Interesting to hear the commentary about the CAR. USMC artillery in I Corp circa 1967 know what it was like and none of us received a CAR!

  15. like you, me and some other bros got out most ricky tick. and of course some damn pog screwed up the 214.so who knows what the hell (car or not) we “3/5” earned during desert storm. but after being in for 6+years, “85-91”. I was used to getting the big green weenie, so who gives a damn, but still, it would be nice to sport the swag that I earned every once in a while, what ever it may be. don’t mater. it’s cool. I stood with my usmc bros when the call came. I know it, so do my bros, I know they will back me in saying so. its all cool even if the 214 does not say so. and to all the red tape bureaucrats who say otherwise “EAT THE APPLE AND FUCK THE CORPS”.

  16. I received my CAR this past March. 49 years after leaving Vietnam. Yes that ribbon does mean a lot to a Marine

    • USMC Vietnam vet. When I got out my DD214 list 3 medals, fire watch and 2 Nam. Filed the paper work for DD215. Now I have 8 ribbons PH, CAR, PUC, etc. 49 years later. Also PH license plate for my pickup. If you earned the Marine Corps should have your records. Semper Fi. Cco 1st Bn 1st MAR. RVN 67=68

  17. Just got my DD214/215 updated after 25 years. The beaucracy is a long, long road to hoe, but with the help of my former plattoon leader and later company commander, it got done.

    • Prior service Marine (0311) and National Guard (11B). Served in Desert Storm with IMEF. I’m trying to join the National Guard now at 45. My local guard unit is eligible to deploy 2018 with 25th INF out of Hawaii. I’ve got one more go in me.Based on my age and years in service, this is my last chance. After 46, I’m no longer eligible. Wish me luck fellas!

  18. Marines need to have a combat award akin to the army’s Combat Infantryman’s Badge..to set apart Infantry from the other MOSs.

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