Troops always like feeling appreciated. A simple "good job" at the right time can go a long way in improving the morale of a unit. You can even take it a step further by expressing your gratitude to troops in many different ways: by releasing them early, taking them out for chow, going a little easier on them throughout the work week — you name it.
Then, there's the Certificate of Appreciation. Given its name, it may seem like a good thing, but if you're the type of leader that puts a troop in for one of these after they've worked their ass off for an extended period of time, well, you might as well just tell them they're garbage.
Keep in mind, the Certificate of Appreciation is different from a Certificate of Achievement. They look exactly alike, have the same acronym, and they're often treated the same way at ceremonies — but the one for achievement is actually worth something: Five promotion points each, to be exact, for a maximum of 20 points. It's not huge, but it's something.
2nd Lts. handing them out is fine, because it's the best they can do and they're at least trying to do something nice. Company commanders and above who can argue for higher have no excuse.
The other key difference between these two certificates is the approving authority involved. A Certificate of Achievement has to go through the battalion commander for approval. The Certificate of Appreciation, on the other hand, can be signed by literally anyone in the unit because all it tells a troop is that someone appreciates them. Despite that, if you look at who most often hands them out, it's Lieutenant Colonels in battalion commander positions.
If that troop royally f*cked up, fine. But there's nothing more discouraging than seeing everyone else get something better while you're stuck with a CoA.
Don't get this twisted — not every action warrants official recognition. If a troop did something great or put forth a little extra effort, but it's still well within the scope of their normal duties — like if a commo soldier brought the NIPR net back up at a critical moment — then it's the right amount of reward. You can even make it a huge thing and officially let the unit know that you appreciate the hard work that a certain soldier put forth at the right moment.
This becomes a problem when the act was actually deserving of an award — like what happens to the many troops who "earn" one as an end-of-tour award. Troops who put heart into what they do get burnt out because they've earned far better than what they're being given. Certificates of Appreciations like that are what sour it for the entire military. If you're going to go through that extra effort to congratulate them, then make it actually matter.
It's also costs the same amount of money on behalf of the unit, since the troops have to go out and buy the damn medal themselves after the ceremony.
If you actually want to show a troop they're appreciated, let them know. Hell, you can even keep the exact same format— bring the troop in front of the formation and personally thank them for what they did. Just replace the "military's version of a high five" with an actual high five.
But when that exact same level of effort on the leadership's part that could be put toward something that actually matters? Please don't insult your troops like that. Hell, an Army Achievement Medal is also approved at a battalion commander-level and that could actually make a difference on a troop's morale by appearing on their uniform — if they've done something worthy of it.