By Jesse Carr
What having a combat action ribbon really means - the debate on experience and leadership.
As the military continues to descend from a wartime time culture to a peacetime culture the attitude and experience level of the military has begun to change. Two years ago when I went through the Marine Corps revered school of infantry-west at Camp Pendleton, all of my combat instructors had combat experience. For most of them it was one deployment to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan. In fact, a few of them had served together in the same unit and the same area of operations. When I checked into my unit in July of 2013, my platoon was made up of about 40-50 percent combat veterans. Now, less then 10 percent of the Marines in my platoon have been deployed, much less seen combat.
Within the world of combat MOS's this reduction in military size and combat activity means only one thing - "boot" status. Throughout all MOS's in the Marine Corps you are considered a "boot" if you have never deployed, however within the infantry you're most likely considered a "boot" if you don't have a combat action ribbon (CAR). And so it begins...
I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to be the best of the best. I wanted to be one of the few and one of the proud. At the time I figured I might as well go all out and I enlisted as a contract 0311 infantry rifleman, the epitome of the Marine Corps. Anyone who understands how the Marine Corps operates knows that the Corps revolves around the infantry - the rifleman. The needs of the Corps come only second to the needs of the mission, and the sole MOS responsible for accomplishing that mission is the grunt. And while we as 0300's like to claim sole responsibility for that, the function of the Corps theoretically allows for any MOS to serve in that role as grunt and riflemen. It is because of this that any MOS can be awarded a CAR.
When I see a Marine with a CAR my heart burns with respect and borderline envy. Envy because they have been able to do what every Marine dreams of doing, sending rounds downrange. The divide between "boots" and CAR recipients is nothing more then experience, and while I yearn for the opportunity to serve my country in that capacity, I don't get offended when a Marine with combat experience calls me a "boot".
Marines with combat experience are like older brothers. We don't always like what they say or how they say it, but we listen because we know that they have more experience then us. We listen because we understand that their perspective has been shaped and molded through their experiences in combat. We listen because we are mature enough to see through the madness to the method and the reason.
There are some Marines that claim that no CAR means no experience, and honestly, it is hard not to agree with that. You can't possibly know what it's like to be in combat if you've never been in combat. But combat experience is not a key requirement to effective leadership, while experience plays a large role in understanding your followers, history has proven that military leaders can be successful without ever taking or returning fire.
In the perfect world, as infantrymen, we want to know that the stars representing us in Washington understand what we go through - we take comfort in knowing that our leadership has been where we are and has faced the hardships that they are asking us to face. But if the world was perfect our jobs would be obsolete. Judging someone based on their stack of ribbons or the grade on their collar is ignorant and stupid. As men of action we judge our leaders based on what they say and what they do, not by what they wear.