Not every British soldier deserves a medal

A 'National Defence Medal' will cause division between those who have had to fight for their reward and those who have not

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The Independent Online

Men and women in our military deserve to be rewarded for their service, but not with a medal.

Today, Stephen Gilbert will table a motion in the House of Commons that all soldiers should be presented with a medal once they have served in the army for two years. That medal would sit alongside those won fighting in overseas campaigns, and those extremely rare medals awarded for bravery. Whilst I applaud Stephen Gilbert for creating a discussion on rewarding our men and women in a room which has too often kept the welfare of our military out of its core business, I am afraid he is wrong by suggesting a medal will serve as an appropriate gesture to two years’ service to the military.

In this country it isn’t our military tradition to hand out medals for little reason. Campaign medals are achieved when our soldiers deploy to lands far away in conflict; rarer yet are the accolades that are handed out for ultimate bravery, those such as the George Cross or of course, the pinnacle bestowed on military heroism, the Victoria Cross.

Occasionally, a national event comes along which brings with it a medal, most recently the Diamond Jubilee medal of 2012, but even that came with a caveat of 5 years’ service before 2012 to merit such an award. Our medals are sacred.

Somewhat of a joke amongst members of the army is the situation in America, in which it appears to us that US soldiers are awarded medals fairly willy-nilly. Men and women in our army are proud that our medals come with so much more cost; this isn’t something which we should change, or take lightly.

Can the government not look at other ways to reward two years’ service to the military? Help with securing a mortgage; subsidised public travel; free prescriptions on the NHS? A medal for putting on a uniform and not deploying or taking part in action seems strange when there are so many more useful rewards a government which really wants to reward military service could look at.

This suggestion comes at the wrong time, too. We have just pulled out of our bloodiest war since the Falklands, and men and women both serving and retired are looking upon their campaign medals with a lot of pride.

A campaign medal represents dedication, service in the face of death, loyalty to comrades and is an item in which memories of fallen brothers and sisters can be represented forever. There is a legitimate reason why medals are usually passed on to younger generations.

I have two medals; one from Iraq in 2007 and one from the Diamond Jubilee of 2012. I wore both with pride this weekend for Remembrance Sunday and noticed, as would many thousands of other veterans, the attraction and importance our medals hold to those outside of the military- particularly children. Everybody in this country knows that our medals are not handed out lightly. This is something we cannot change.

Let’s have a discussion about what rewards we can offer people for committing to time in the military regardless if they fight a war or not.  In London, the police travel on public transport for free and let’s face it, students have more than their fair share of discounts; these are the rewards I know will be more welcome in the military.

Introducing this medal will cause division between those who have had to, quite literally, fight for their medal reward and those who are joining a new, relatively quiet period of military deployment. This isn't for us.

James Wharton served in the Household Cavalry from 2003-2013 serving both ceremonially in London and operationally in Iraq