A while back I wrote about one Xavier Alvarez and his push to the Supreme Court of the United States to have the Stolen Valor Act overturned.  The first two posts The Stolen Valor Act and Stolen Valor Act Revisited dealt with trying to explain the cause for which Alvarez has felt justified in questioning his own conviction and attempting to get the law deemed unconstitutional by the USSC.

Just a quick recap of what it is that led us to Mr. Alvarez and his cause.  Alvarez falsely represented himself as a retired US Marine and Medal of Honor recipient when he was running for a minor elected position in California.  He was arrested, tried and convicted under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.  Alvarez later appealed, was originally stricken down, and then both the 9th and 10th US Circuit Courts of Appeals deemed the act unconstitutional.  The US Government has felt strongly enough about the right to protect the Act that it pushed for and gained the argument to be heard by the USSC, where it waits for final disposition today.

Ok, enough said in relation to context, time to swing this back over and try to persuade those of you out there who have never served, why this act is important.

There is a certain symbolism when a service member earns a medal for a valorous act.  The key thing to remember here, is the medal is earned, not won as is the common language.  No service member wins a medal for acts either meritorious or, more specifically, a valorous act.  Medals for valorous acts come in a couple of different levels and are awarded based off of the request and narrative of the recomender.  In the Army for example, it ranges from the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for minor, yet still life threatening actions under fire, to the Medal of Honor at the top end for risking one’s life to save others above and beyond the call of duty, with great risk to life (the majority have been awarded posthumously) and in demonstrating great gallantry and intrepidity.  All but the top three medals have a meritorious counterpart that refelects great service without the actual act of risk to life being performed, they are often called service awards in this instance.  The top three awards for each service are reserved specifically for acts of heroism under fire.  The Medal of Honor comes with some additional privileges and stipends as a result of receiving such a prestigious award.

Now let me talk specifically about the top medal, the most prestigious, the Medal of Honor.  It is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor.  This is a bit of a misnomer as Congress does not actually approve the awarding of the medal.  They authorized the medal and the additional privileges and stipends.

The image above is what Mr. Alvarez is accused of and has admitted to lying about receiving.  It is a beautiful, yet simple award; each service has a slightly different piece to present a recipient.  The simple, yet distinctive award is in keeping with military tradition.  It is a visual symbol of the recipients unwavering courage under fire.  It is a small recognition for the small part of yourself that has been left behind on the battlefield in support of the policies and strategic initiatives of the U.S. Government.

Many have heard of ‘Blackhawk Down” or as it is referred to in the military as “The Battle of The Black Sea” which occured on 3/4 October of 2003 in Mogadishu, Somalia.  During that battle there were many medals awarded for gallantry and bravery.  Two individuals stand out from the rest though with their actions in attempting to save the crew of one of the downed helicopters that was cut-off from help.  These two men, gave their lives voluntarily and explicitly in the attempt.  Their citations read below:

*GORDON, GARY I.

Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army. Place and date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia. Entered service at: —– Born: Lincoln, Maine. Citation: Master Sergeant Gordon, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as Sniper Team Leader, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Master Sergeant Gordon’s sniper team provided precision fires from the lead helicopter during an assault and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. When Master Sergeant Gordon learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the second crash site, he and another sniper unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After his third request to be inserted, Master Sergeant Gordon received permission to perform his volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Master Sergeant Gordon was inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon and his fellow sniper, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Master Sergeant Gordon immediately pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Master Sergeant Gordon used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers until he depleted his ammunition. Master Sergeant Gordon then went back to the wreckage, recovering some of the crew’s weapons and ammunition. Despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition, he provided some of it to the dazed pilot and then radioed for help. Master Sergeant Gordon continued to travel the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. After his team member was fatally wounded and his own rifle ammunition exhausted, Master Sergeant Gordon returned to the wreckage, recovering a rifle with the last five rounds of ammunition and gave it to the pilot with the words, “good luck.” Then, armed only with his pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon continued to fight until he was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Master Sergeant Gordon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.

And:

*SHUGHART, RANDALL D.

Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army. Place and date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia. Entered service at: —– Born: Newville, Pennsylvania. Citation: Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Sergeant First Class Shughart’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.

These two men gave their lives in order to try and save others.  They did so selflessly and in doing so demonstrated extreme courage in a time when others would have given way to the odds that were stacked against them.  Of the four person crew only one would survive.  He was taken prisoner by the militia and eventually released, but if not for the actions of these two brave men he would also be dead.

Since 1993 there have been ten MoH’s awarded, six for service in Afghanistan and four for Iraq.  The majority of them have been awarded to family members of the deceased service member and all are awarded by the President.  Each and every recipient, alive or dead, has voluntarily given, in the case of the living, a piece of themselves to the action is which they distinguished themselves.  The actions they needed to do in order to save their comrades and/or others required going beyond their training and in the face of imminent death do what needed to be done.  In the case of the deceased, they voluntarily gave of themselves so that others could live on.  They paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The MoH has been awarded over 3400 times since it was first authorized in 1861.  As the years of gone by and military actions and war have continued through periods, there has been increased scrutiny on the criteria for awarding the medal.  The instances have been narrowed and the criteria made most strict.  There are many instance of such extreme that have been awarded the lesser, yet still prestigious awards of Distinguished Service Cross or Silver Star.

Given some of these examples I fail to see in what way the courts can tie 1st Amendment freedoms to Mr. Alvarez and other people of his ilk who would demean the value of the lives spent by outright lying about the service ad valor for their own aims.  This may well be one of those times where the civilian world, while outraged at the acts, may not truly comprehend what has gone into someone truly being the recipient of one these awards.  After all, they all really boil down to words on paper at the end of the day.  The symbolism and tradition can never truly be felt by those who have not worn the uniform.

My sincere hope in this case is the USSC will find some creative, legal jargon in which to exempt this egregious act from 1st Amendment protections.  After all it was the sacrifices of uniform wearing service members that allowed the USSC to come into being after the Revolution and again during and after the War of 1812.

I have no valorous awards, all those I have ever received have been service or meritorious in nature.  Mr. Alvarez has NO awards, he was never a Marine, EVER.  He did not earn the honor and distinction with which he represented himself.  He did not represent himself in accordance with his rights under the 1st Amendment, he fraudulently and explicitly fabricated a life in order to exploit them for his own gains.  He did so by representing himself as the recipient of things that could only be awarded at the federal level and by member of the U.S. military.  This one piece of bi-partisan legislation should be worded as simply as it is, it should remain within the confines of the Constitution, and it should be applied to anyone who attempts to further themselves from fraudulent heroism and acts of gallantry.  Hero is a word no member of the military ever attempts to achieve.  It is a word that is used by peers and those who have benefited from heroic acts as sign of recognition that you did something great at great cost to yourself.  The minute you actually believe you are a hero, you have failed to become one and have added to the diminishment of the brotherhood (sisterhood as well so as not to be misogynist).

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