Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Little Token of Our Appreciation—How I Finally Got my Medal

Fact is, little tokens of appreciation are ordinarily quite well appreciated. I went to Iraq from June to September of 2004, not because I wanted any recognition, just doing my job. Two years later I decided to go back to teaching, which I continue to do.

I learned even later that after my departure from the NSA, a civilian medal had been created which acknowledged service in war zones performed by federal employees.

The Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal is to be issued to employees satisfying the following criteria:

* 30 or more consecutive days in the field of operation. (I satisfied that times three.)

* Must have worked in direct support of the Coalition efforts (I did, though I can't say much more about it than that.)

* Must also have been a federal employee during this service, not a private contractor. (I was a federal employee, though I remain annoyed to this day that someone screwed up such that during my time in Iraq I had to wear a green badge implying I was a contractor or something. Wow, look at me in that picture. I had just landed in Iraq. I look scared. I was scared.)

The regulations for the medal did also explicitly state that the medal is to be issued to personnel who have subsequently left federal employment. And the medal was retroactive for anyone qualifying all the way back to September 11, 2001.

So, I qualified. Even though I was now a mild-mannered Latin teacher at a public high school, I am supposed to get this thing.

And I'll admit, I wanted my medal. A federal level medal is a big deal. I qualified for it and, darn it, I deserve it.

But here's the catch. Just because you qualify, doesn't mean you have been awarded or issued the medal. It still has to be issued by a division of the Department of Defense qualified to issue it. And I was now outside the NSA.

I still have friends on the inside, however, with whom I maintain email contact. So I wrote to a fellow that had been in Iraq after me, asking if he knew about this medal. I learned that he and everyone he knew that qualified had already been issued the thing! This seemed like great news, because if they got it, then I'm going to get it too. So, I asked him to please send a message inside the NSA to the people who issued him the medal, asking how a former employee goes about getting the medal issued to them.

I received no response for some time and I wrote back and learned that he had sent the message up the chain of command and received no reply as yet. But he told me he would write again to see what happened on the matter.

And what followed was a frustrating period of several months in which more than one person inside the NSA tried to get this matter addressed, and no one could succeed.

I suspected what might be going on. The issuing of that medal actually does require someone within management filling out a form, writing a formal letter or whatnot, and sending it somewhere. In other words, it requires some effort on their part. And the reality was that management really has no incentive whatsoever to expend effort on a former employee. Yes, out of justice I earned the medal and should be issued the medal. But a manager gets something out of issuing a medal to current employee. The gratitude the recipient has will translate into loyalty and performance. But a former employee is a different matter. It's a Catch-22 for me. It sucks for me, but it's even understandable.

I had started my little campaign in March of 2011. In February of 2012, I decided on a new tactic. If no one inside the NSA seems to have any sway on my behalf, perhaps my Congressman could. I wrote the office of Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, explaining the situation and asking if the Congressman could help. I received a prompt reply requesting some documentation from me describing the situation in full detail. I sent it in and hoped that perhaps finally something might happen.

About a week later, I got a call on my cell phone. It was someone from the NSA telling me that they are so sorry that I never got the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal issued to me and that it has been issued immediately. Furthermore, the woman told me that they would be mailing the hard copy of the medal, but the Certificate itself would follow later after receiving the appropriate signature.

The next day, I come home and find a FedEx package by my door. They had over-nighted the medal to me!

I did learn later that a friend inside the NSA felt he was getting close to getting my situation resolved, but the manner in which the NSA acted, one week after the Congressman got on the case, makes it pretty obvious that it was he who lit a fire under them.

I called the Congressman's office and conveyed my gratitude for his efforts on my behalf. And then, to my surprise, I received a letter from him thanking me for my service. He is a class act and I appreciate his letter as much as the medal itself.

The Certificate did arrive later. Notice, they back dated it to the time when I was still in Iraq.  

The Certificate and the Congressman's letter hang in my study. I actually wear my medal on my Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform. I'm proud to have served my country. And, I'll admit, this token of appreciation is kinda nice.