Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Poll: Awards Philosophy

There are a couple of different philosophies on giving awards in the Navy. My initial attempt to write this post ended up much longer than you would want to read today, so let's take it one piece at a time. In this post, I am going to focus on command level awards, and more specifically command NAMs (Navy Achievement Medals).

On one side of the fence, there are those who believe NAMs should be given out liberally to everyone who has done a good job. Why?
- They're free and don't cost the command anything. The CO of a ship or submarine can award as many command NAMs as he or she pleases.
- They're visible. It's something the sailor can actually wear on his or her uniform with pride.
- They provide enlisted sailors with points toward their advancement, so it has a tangible benefit to your crew members in that it helps them get promoted.
- They're easier to get routed and approved in a timely manner than a flag officer letter of commendation.

On the other side of the fence, there are those who believe in a more conservative approach to awarding command NAMs and advocate a limited quota or ground rules for who is able to earn a NAM. Why?
- As more NAMs are given, it may diminish the perceived value of the award. (The phrase "dime a dozen" comes to mind.)
- Some people take offense when as an E-7 they receive a NAM as an end-of-tour award (for leading an entire division of sailors) while the most junior sailor on board receives the same NAM.

There are a few other arguments and rebuttals swirling around in my head on this, but before I write any more on the topic, I want to ask for your opinions.

What do you think?

Does everyone who's done a "good job" on their tour deserve a NAM? Does giving out more NAMs diminish the perceived value of the award? Should commanding officers give out NAMs to anyone the feel is deserving, or should they impose some sort of % quota or ground rules to limit their distribution and make those who receive them feel more special?

Please take a moment to click one of the answers in the poll on the right, or leave a comment if you think there should be another choice on the poll answers.


Ret ANAV said...

Coming out of the shipyard in '06, we (CPO Quarters) had a great philosophical debate on this very topic, chaired by the late Tom Higgins. Never forgot his opening salvo: "What is the first sentence in every NAM citation?". That answer provided, he produced the 1650 Manual and proceeded to read the criteria for a NAM. Those two items became our marching orders WRT WHAT award we would recommend. At the end of it all, his motivation was quite simple: Put your sailors on as high a pedestal as you can without:
a. De-Valuing their contribution, or
b. De-Valuing the level of award.

Maybe you'll agree, maybe not, but I think that was kind of a subtle turning point in J.R.'s NAM policy - not that he was overly liberal before that, but he became a bit more conservative afterward...and it gave the kids something to WORK FOR, rather than something they can EXPECT as a matter of course.

My opinion on NAM's: Follow the letter of the law (the 1650) and try your damndest to ensure that the recipient (and everyone else around them) KNOWS that they've done something TRULY special.

My $0.02 worth.
Have a great week!

黃色 said...
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Nereus said...

I am with Ret Anav on this one.. follow the 1650 to the letter. I earned 7 Nam's over a career, 6 for various repair or other acts of resurrecting Radio/Navigation/ships control equiment otherwise thought to be dead and gone.
It either got us to sea on time or kept us there the required time to achieve our mission. And 1 thrown in so the skipper had something to pin on as I was rang ashore for the final time. So I wasn't ever a fan of some collattoral duty weenie getting one for keeping his paperwork neat and doing it when others had to pull the load for the job he was assigned by BUPERS.
From the 1650:
Awards are important symbols of recognition. They are a means of publicly recognizing and rewarding extraordinary, exceptionally meritorious, or conspicuously outstanding acts of heroism and other acts or services. They are above and beyond acts that are normally expected and that distinguish the individual from those performing similar acts of services. The use of military decorations and awards provides incentives for greater effort and better morale. Individuals who deserve to be recognized should be rewarded whenever possible. Recognition of sustained superior performance should normally be accorded an individual at the termination of the period during which that person demonstrated that performance, such as at the end of the assigned tour of duty. A routine end-of-tour award is, however, not to be considered an integral part of the awards system

SonarMan said...

I didn't know what a NAM was until I got to my second boat 6 years after I joined. And I only saw officers get them. It wasn't until the early 90's that I saw NAMs being awarded to Blue Shirts.

On my last boat ('96-'00), I recall a 3rd class cook getting a NAM for his melty choco chip cookies he made for the ORSE team. You've never seen such a pissed off crew...

Most of the time, I've seen them given as EOT awards, if you were a generally decent sailor. If you didn't get one there was usually a reason why. Chiefs & O-Gangers got a COM for EOT. I recall it being a snub if a CPO was awarded a NAM. Maybe that doesn't follow the INST, but it seemed to work.

I got three during my 20, and I felt I earned each one. One shoulda been a COM, but I'll take what I can get.

Chap said...

Following the 1650 works as a good entering argument. I'd note that many medals are earned, but only a few get awarded, and the difference is often the officer not taking the time to finish the dang paperwork. I'd also add that you want to publicly identify genuine achievement in a way that shows it means something, and not be so much of a medal miser you hurt your guys' careers (promotion board: "This guy has no personal awards! What kind of dirtbag is he?"). Balance is good.

Medals are impossible to do perfectly. We all have stories about ones awarded because of proximity to a senior officer feeling generous rather than true excellence or heroism, and remember the things that shoulda gotten one.

Some leaders forget that there is a continuum of reward and discipline for which medals are just one data point--I don't know how the ANAV feels about this, but I really liked how we did IMUA awards on the boat on which we both served--a fancier version of the CO's letter of commendation, for things worth noting in public for praise below the level of a promotion-point admiral's letter or medal.

In summary: Follow the instruction. Do the paperwork. Strike a balance. Use all your tools.

Chap said...

Oh yeah. Never tell someone you're putting them in for a medal. Never tell them you're not putting them in for a medal to make a bigger end-of-tour. Things will change, and you'll not be able to keep your word. Most of the time people trying to 'save the bullets for the bigger EOT' don't, uh, get the EOT the way they want and screw their guy out of what they thought the guy deserved.