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The Army is coordinating with the Luxembourg and Netherlands embassies to establish a path forward for two popular foreign awards, Human Resources Command officials told Army Times in a phone interview.

HRC was subject to backlash after an Aug. 30 awards regulation update that removed the Holland Four Day Event Cross (more commonly known as the Nijmegen cross) and Luxembourg’s International March of Diekirch Medal from the list of foreign awards and badges approved for U.S. soldiers to wear on their dress uniforms. Officials argued that the new virtual format of the two events (due to COVID-19) and award shipping fees meant accepting the awards for permanent wear would violate Army and Defense Department policy.

The change was announced via S1Net, a restricted-access official message board, where the discussion thread turned into a roaring debate over the policy change and its implications, which Army Times covered Sept. 1.

Commenters there disagreed with HRC’s policy interpretations and argued for the decision to be reversed, expressing concern that the guidance could result in a wider crackdown on foreign awards. Others contributed to the discussion via social media posts and opinion articles, including a Sept. 7 commentary published in Army Times.

The head of the command’s Soldier Programs & Services Division, Col. Greg Leiphart, explained the changes to Army Times and also apologized to troops about how those changes were rolled out. His division oversees HRC’s Awards and Decorations Branch.

“Our response on [Aug. 30] that hit the S1Net — that was unclear; it was vague,” Leiphart said. “We accept responsibility for that…it could have been messaged more effectively.”

Leiphart and Maj. Grekii Fielder of the awards branch also offered an important caveat to the policy: awards earned before Aug. 30 and approved for permanent wear by the first general officer in the chain of command won’t be subject to revocation — an apparent change from the initial rollout.

“We’re not going on a witch hunt to revoke awards” that already received a general officer’s approval for permanent wear, explained Leiphart. “We are not here to second guess our leaders.”

Will the two awards return?

Fielder characterized the future of the awards as “currently on pause until we get clarified guidance,” indicating that HRC is working with embassy officials, DoD officials and Army attorneys to determine the path forward. As it currently stands, troops who have earned either of the two awards after Aug. 30 cannot wear them.

The two officials reiterated their belief that the virtual format of the Nijmegen and Diekirch events goes against Army regulations, but said they intend to use the review to “fact-check” whether they meet muster.

Asked by Army Times how the two awards under review are different from other popular foreign awards not under review that don’t always require foreign officials present, the colonel argued that such events aren’t in line with the spirit of accepting and wearing foreign awards.

1st Lt. Patrick Sutherland is congratulated by a Norwegian officer after being the first to finish the Norwegian March held on May 15, 2022 at Setermoen, Norway as part of Exercise Swift Response 2022. (Spc. Jeremy Stillwagner/Army)

“There’s no issues with conducting that event [but] authorizing it for wear — it shouldn’t be the focal point of these event,” argued Leiphart. “Are you doing this event for partnership? Are you doing it for your own gain to wear something on your uniform?”

But many events for foreign awards like the small badge awarded for completing Norway’s foot march challenge or foreign parachutist wings also double as charitable events like toy drives or food drives.

Leiphart and Fielder insisted, though, that only the Luxembourg and Netherlands awards are currently subject to embassy and policy review.

“Those are…the two that we’re looking at,” said Leiphart. Others are “not currently” under review.

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master’s thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood’s WWII movies.

 

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