Troops and veterans have little sympathy for the clowns that put on a military uniform around Veterans Day just to try and get 10 percent off their restaurant bill. For lack of a more polite word, the military community offers nothing but unbridled rage to those unworthy of wearing uniform who degrade it in the public eye.
But there is another form of so-called "stolen valor" that rarely gets brought up within the military community — and that's in-service stolen valor. The Army simply refers to it as being a "PX Ranger," named after the fool who goes to the PX, buys a Ranger tab, and slaps it on without even stepping foot on the course, let alone completing it.
In addition to going against many official regulations, the troops who do this are damaging the good order and discipline of the military far more than the phonies who make laughable attempts to shave a few bucks off their lunch.
You should know which awards you have. After all, you were likely there to receive them.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Russell Martin)
Now, to be clear, there's a huge difference between in-service stolen valor and the obligatory embellishments that come with military storytelling. It's one thing to tell a group of younger Joes that, "no sh*t, there you were..." and it's another to wear an unearned award to back up your claim. For starters, everyone knows to take service stories with a grain of salt. Amplifying a few details to get the point across is harmless; wearing accolades you've not earned, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden by Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Depending on the severity of the infraction, the accused could face a maximum punishment of forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a bad conduct discharge, and up to six months in confinement. According to the rules, there's no distinction made between the guy who adds an extra oak leaf cluster to an Army Commendation Medal and the scumbag who tells everyone their Silver Star is "still being figured out by their last unit."
There's just some things you can't just "yeah, well, you see. What had happened was" your way through. Being a ranger is one of them.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)
This harms the military in several ways, the most prominent being that it takes away from the hard work and dedication of those who spent blood, sweat, and tears to get recognized. Regardless of the decoration, there's weight behind it. If you see an NCO wearing a Ranger tab, you can assume that they've got a solid understanding of what it takes to be a bad*ss. They will become the go-to expert on all things relating to operational and tactical planning. If that understanding is built on a lie, then the entire unit suffers.
Because it is punishable under the UMCJ and it's assumed that wearing a decoration means you're worthy of it, there shouldn't have to be the background checks that have inevitably cropped up because of these Blue Falcons. Sure, the old lady at the register still doesn't ask for a Ranger School graduation certificate when someone buys the tab, but these phonies have helped foster an unwarranted level of scrutiny among the troops. Any real Ranger can easily provide proof, yes, but it's a shame we need to spend time validating what we've already earned because of a few bad apples.
There isn't anything wrong with being the average Joe in the formation. The moment you raised your right hand and completed your branch's initial entry training, you've earned the respect of all the brothers and sisters who've come before you.
Embrace who you are. If you want to be better, go out and be better. Talk to your training room about getting into that school you want. Do extraordinary things in your unit to get that prestigious award. Request a change in MOS if you feel like you're being held back by your position in the unit. Whatever you do, don't just pin yourself with something unless you've earned it — or else you're no better than the prick screaming for a military discount after buying a uniform online.