President Donald Trump gave the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019, to the 116th United States Congress. His speech covered many topics, ranging from bipartisanship to infrastructure reform and veterans affairs to current military operations.
One thing most people skimmed over throughout the night happened during a quick camera pan over the United States Defense Chiefs. Many people were quick to point out that they remained emotionless throughout the entire event because, by military regulation, a service member cannot show political affiliation while in uniform in an official capacity, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
There was a glaringly obvious goof, once you know what you’re looking for. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, was apparently one of the only ones to catch the mistake on his own uniform. His ribbon rack was put on upside-down.
The accident was made known when he called himself out on Twitter. His ribbon rack, while properly squared away, was in the opposite order of precedence — meaning the rack was organized properly, but placed onto the uniform the wrong way.
The awards of ribbon racks are to be ordered from least prestigious (in the lower right) to the most prestigious (in the upper left). A little life hack for any troops still making their dress uniforms is to place them in the order that it says on your ERB/ORB. As for Gen. Lengyel, his Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon was placed far above his Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
Is this a huge mistake? Not really. But how Gen. Lengyel reacted is worthy of recognition and is an example that all troops should admire.
Everyone makes mistakes, from the lowest airman late to formation to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau at the State of the Union. It’s what you do afterward that really matters. You should take the hit on the chin like an adult and get back into the fight.
You own up to your shortcomings and strive to be better next time. Realistically, Gen. Lengyel isn’t going to be doing push-ups until his supervisor gets tired or sent to mop the rain off the flight line. Chances are high that his uniform was prepared by an aide who’s probably beating themselves up for this far more than their NCOs are smoking them.
If this uniform was mistakenly set up by an aide, I say commend that person as well. Gen. Lengyel came out of this debacle looking like far more of a true leader than if he sat there quietly the entire evening. Give them a coin with the stern warning to never mess that up again.