There could be a lot more recognition of bravery of our troops in Afghanistan than is currently the case. But currently the chests of our brave men and women in the field are being kept emptier than their commanding officers would like by over 50%.
The issue is a Whitehall quota system that restricts the number of medals to a certain number per tour based on the number of troops in each brigade deployed. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan says:
"The way the quota is used at the moment is very strict, the rules are very inflexible. Commanding officers are lucky to get a 50% strike rate for their medal recommendations due to the conservative nature of senior officers who sit in London and decide these things."
For example in every six months:
- Only two or three Distinguished Service Orders for outstanding combat leadership are now usually awarded to officers in each brigade.
- No more than 19 Military Crosses for bravery in each period.
- Just two Distinguished Flying Crosses for bravery in the air have been awarded.
- The only Victoria Cross awarded in Afghanistan was awarded posthumously to Para Corporal Bryan Budd who was killed in August 2006.
One senior officer back in London defended the process saying:
"The fear is we will end up like the Americans and people will get a medal for putting their boots on in the morning.
"We study recommendations very carefully and always err on the side of caution."
But Colonel Kemp counters that by saying:
"Medals are good for morale. They encourage people to go that extra mile. The army is too precious.
"The opinions of regimental commanding officers and brigade commanders on the front line should carry more importance than at the moment."
So even our awards for gallantry are tied up in red tape over the individual merit of each action. What may have earned a medal in another conflict is not maybe not enough if that quota has to be factored in.