It took me some time, but I've finally got the final numbers right for awards of Decorations for Military Valour (MVDs) as a result of the Afghan combat mission. Thanks to the great cooperation of Major Carl Gauthier of the Directorate of Honours and Recognition in DND, the figures in my data base reconcile with his totals. So now I can proceed to complete the new chapter on Afghanistan for the revised edition of my book Courage Rewarded.
So, for the entire period of Operations Opollo and Athena from January 2001 to July 2011, the numbers of awards to Canadian Forces personnel, from the army, air force and navy, were the following –
These awards were the first to be made since the new Canadian Honours System was instituted because they can only be made for actions in the face of enemy fire. Unfortunately, during peacekeeping operations, there was no declared “enemy” so, in Bosnia, when Canadian soldiers came under fire from hostile local forces and risked their lives to keep the opposing sides apart, no MVDs could be awarded. Courageous acts were thankfully recognized by other awards such as the Meritorious Service Cross or Medal of Bravery, and the recipients should be equally proud of that recognition.
The publicly-available citations for the MVDs can all be found in the annual reports from the Directorate of Honours and Awards. While the descriptions are brief, they give a fascinating glimpse into the intensity of combat that our men and women faced in Afghanistan.
It’s interesting to note that the journalist Murray Brewster has questioned the absence of the Canadian Victoria Cross being awarded amongst the decorations announced ( http://bit.ly/Xx4zml ). He muses that the reason may have been political; or perhaps just the usual reluctance of higher commanders to view acts of courage by most soldiers as being other than just doing their expected duty. It is an interesting and worthy question by a journalist who spent many months in the combat zone. He is correct that often such reasons have influenced awards in the past.
But I think the reason for not having any Victoria Cross announcement is more that the standard for the Victoria Cross is extraordinarily high; and reference cannot be made to similar awards in past wars when the standard was not as stringent. Many of the awards of the Star of Military Valour are impressive; but many Mentions in Despatches are also impressive, at that third level of honour. It seems like the standard for all levels has ratcheted up with each generation as the intensity of combat has changed. Perhaps it is best that we do not have a Victoria Cross winner because many of those were made posthumously.
The combat mission against insurgents in Afghanistan was strange and unique. From all accounts the awards made were appropriate and deserved.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history