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Officer lobbies Navy for ballistic missile defense award

Aug. 9, 2013 - 12:39PM   |  
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The cruiser Lake Erie returns to its home port at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on March 19 after a successful missile launch in the Pacific. An officer says sailors on ballistic missile defense duty should rate a badge. (MC3 Diana Quinlan / Navy)

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Ballistic missile defense patrols, ramping up in the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, can be quite boring and rightly so: Incoming nuclear rockets remain a rarity. But now a BMD officer has offered a way to boost sailor morale on this tedious but important mission.

Lt. j.g. Zachary Howitt has issued a call for a special ribbon or badge to recognize the nerve-wracking work of staying ready to shoot down rockets at a moment’s notice for months at a time.

“What is needed is a real way to recognize BMD service to the fleet, starting with the most junior sailor,” Howitt wrote in a July 31 post on the U.S. Naval Institute’s blog. “In fact, we need to do more than recognize it; we need to make it prestigious among the surface warfare community.”

The surface Navy should adopt a BMD badge akin to the deterrent patrol pin worn by boomer sailors, suggests Howitt, who’s got firsthand BMD patrol experience. The 25-year-old surface warrior argues the mission is specialized and vital enough to warrant its own ribbon and warns that the long stretches of seemingly doing nothing are taking their toll.

“The tedious and seemingly fruitless duty has caused BMD to be seen as a stigma, and many sailors are given advice to stay far away from the BMD mission,” wrote Howitt, who’s assigned to the Yokosuka-based destroyer Fitzgerald. Howitt did not reply to email messages seeking comment by Aug. 2.

Other options are a BMD service ribbon, which Howitt suggests would be worn by those who’ve done 30 consecutive days or 60 total days of BMD missions during a deployment, or awarding extra advancement points to sailors who’ve done patrols, similar to other special duties such as recruiting or individual augmentations.

The brass seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach. Spokespeople for Naval Surface Forces and the chief of naval personnel were unable to say whether the ideas were under consideration.

But some are already weighing in — and finding the idea a nonstarter.

All crews contend with missions that can be tedious and only involve small sections of the crew — think sub-hunting or boarding-team operations. Nor is there a special badge for flight deck crews, who toil long hours on one of the fleet’s most dangerous stretches.

A BMD badge, critics contend, smacks of being merely an award for good attendance.

“There are lots of long, boring, or constrained patrols out there that don’t get a service ribbon,” one active-duty USNI reader commented on the blog post. “If we used ‘painful but important’ morale-ribbon logic, we might justify a ribbon for everything from INSURV to painting.”

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