Alexander's Column

A Bronze Star Power Point? Actually, not...

Drive-by Journalism at Its Worst

By Mark Alexander · Mar. 14, 2013
“The best and only safe road to honor, glory, and true dignity is justice.” –George Washington (1779)
Bronze Star Medal

In keeping with our publishing deadlines, every Tuesday morning I send notice of my topic for Thursday’s column to our editorial team. This week, I sent notice that I was writing about “military award inflation,” and particularly a story from reputable news sources about an Air Force chaplain, Lt. Col. Jon Trainer, who received a Bronze Star for a PowerPoint.

I first read this story under an inflammatory National Review Online headline, “Air Force Chaplain Awarded Bronze Star for PowerPoint Teaching Proper Sensitivity for the Koran.” National Review is, usually, a trusted source for conservative commentary, but in this case, an NRO editor created his “cut and paste” commentary from a local paper, the Dayton Daily News, originally under the headline, “Local Chaplain Played Vital Role in War.”

The Dayton paper did not report the basis for the Bronze Star award accurately, emphasizing LTC Trainer’s PowerPoint instead of his service and leadership in Afghanistan, and then NRO repeated that error under a sensational headline. (Since when do outstanding conservative sites like NRO rely on a local newspaper to report a story accurately?)

By Wednesday afternoon, the NRO version had been picked up by thousands of news sites and blogs – from FrontPageMag to blogger Debbie Schlussel to Glenn Beck.

My original commentary angle was to use the “PowerPoint Bronze” story as a case in point of military award inflation, and then focus on the ill-conceived Distinguished Warfare Medal, proposed by former SecDef Leon Panetta, for drone operators and cyber warriors. The DWM is now rightly under reconsideration by the Department of Defense, after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a Marine combat veteran of OIF and OEF, and other veterans in Congress, objected to the award because its order of precedence places it above the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal, and Air Force, Army and Navy/Marine Commendation Medals for valor.

Let me be clear: Drone operators and cyber warriors, like other rear-echelon warriors, most certainly deserve recognition for their dedication and skill in support of combat troops, but those awards should not have an order of precedence over awards for valor in combat. I have yet to meet any backfield warrior who would suggest otherwise.

Panetta’s proposed order of precedence was completely unacceptable, and I thought the mindset that conjured up the DWM was demonstrably similar to that of military commanders who would honor a PowerPoint with a Bronze Medal, even though the latter clearly did not include a combat “V” for valor as defined by Executive Order 9419 (1944).

So I set about to draw a comparison.

Now, military award inflation is nothing new. Any combat vet can tell you outrageous stories of undeserved military awards and decorations, and they can cite the valorous warriors who should have received them instead. (An obvious case in point would be John Kerry, who virtually wrote his own Purple Heart and Silver Star citations.)

However, as I began my own research Tuesday, it quickly became apparent that the NRO story headline was appallingly misleading. Worse, the focus of other commentators who picked up the NRO story had devolved from legitimate and reasonable questions about the merits of this award to outright attacks on the character of the award recipient, LTC Trainer.

For example, Schlussel’s commentary on this “Dhimmi Power Point” appeared under the heading, “[It’s official: you can now earn a Bronze Star for Islamo-pandering |].” She indicted Trainer: “This schmuck in uniform doesn’t care. He’s also probably one of those left-wing Christians who hates Israel and loves Palestinian terrorists. It jibes with the rest of his now-bronzed BS.”

Typical of the blogging blather was this missive: “The military is now awarding medals to servicemen who pander to Muslim sensitivities. So if you’re in the military and you’d like a prestigious Bronze Star, just encourage your fellow soldiers to submit to Sharia.”

This errant slandering of LTC Trainer gave a whole new meaning to the notion, “death by PowerPoint.”

Needless to say, the focus of my column changed – not to defend the award – but to defend the Chaplain and set the record straight. I have seen the award recommendation. It is not based on a PowerPoint. I have seen the slide presentation. It does not constitute PC pandering to Islam.

LTC Jon Trainer

I contacted LTC Jon Trainer Tuesday afternoon, something no other policy analysts or commentators had done, to discuss the matter with him directly. I also contacted field commanders in Afghanistan for comment on the PowerPoint he developed.

Here is the truth about Jon Trainer and his tour in Afghanistan.

Trainer is a 51-year old Christian pastor, heading the clergy at New Hope Bible Church in Pataskala, Ohio. He is married to a schoolteacher and they have two children. He has earned BA, MA and MDiv degrees, and is near completion of his DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also has earned an MS from the USAF Air University Air War College. In addition to his family and church life, Jon has other leadership roles in his community.

He is both conservative theologically and politically, as anyone could plainly determine from his Facebook page and Twitter feed. It is no small irony that he’s a regular reader of National Review Online and has been a subscriber for years.

Trainer is also a citizen soldier.

He has served with the Ohio Air National Guard, as chaplain to the 251st Combat Communications Group in Springfield since 2000. In 2011, he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan as the USFOR-A Training & Pastoral Care Chaplain, Command Staff in Kabul, where he used his considerable skill and intellect to assist countless warriors in theater with a wide range of problems, and to train other chaplains.

After the accidental destruction of Islamic religious materials by U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield in 2011, which led to greatly strained relations between the U.S. and Afghan government, Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, requested that LTC Trainer prepare for U.S. service personnel a training orientation on Muslim religious articles.

That brief 20-slide PowerPoint, “Handling and Disposal of Islamic Religious Materials,” was ordered by Gen. Allen to be distributed throughout the Afghan theater, and incorporated into the pre-deployment training orientation for incoming military and civilian personnel – those who would be operating side by side with Afghan Muslim soldiers and Islamic community leaders. By all accounts, understanding Islamic culture is critical to the successful seeding of democracy in an Islamic country, and Trainer’s presentation hardly amounted to “a PowerPoint appeasement of our enemy” as some have framed it.

Among Trainer’s responsibilities in Afghanistan, that PowerPoint was an insignificant contribution, except for the high-profile coverage of the Quran burnings, which put it and him in the crossfire. Fact is, Trainer should be recognized, first and foremost, for his “Ask, Care, Escort” suicide prevention curriculum for military personnel. According to his commander, Col. David Smith, Trainer “crafted outstanding programs on suicide prevention … which exponentially impacted tens of thousands of Service Members.”

His pastoral counseling was invaluable. “Chaplain Trainer served with me as my pastor, counselor, comrade and prayer warrior,” says Army LTC Todd Perkins. “He accepted my personal challenges as his priority and was always available to listen and counsel. His lessons, sermons and advice are a solid foundation for me to reference until and beyond the day that I return home to my family.”

To condemn LTC Jon Trainer personally because he was recommended for a Bronze Star for meritorious service in the conduct of his duties in a theater of war is odious. Trainer didn’t ask for the award, and given his clear Christian predisposition for humility, I am certain he never would have missed it.

Assassinating the character of a military chaplain – especially one who has served our country with integrity and has honored his oath “to Support and Defend” our Constitution – is inexcusable.

Distinguished Warfare Medal

Moving forward, conservatives should vigorously protest the degradation of our Armed Forces capabilities and morale under Barack Hussein Obama, who has demonstrated great disdain for our military men and women as CINC. (The feeling is mutual.) He has undercut the DoD budget and undercut Military order by way of a plethora of PC doctrines.

As for military award inflation, this may be the only issue where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel excels. He volunteered to join the Army and served in Vietnam as a sergeant with the 9th Infantry Division, where he earned the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Unlike his predecessor, Hagel will know how to address the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s order of precedence.

Ultimately, the lesson here is that conservative commentators and news sites should, in the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify” reports, even from reputable sources like NRO. We should reject sensationalist tabloid headlines, which have become too common on some self-proclaimed “conservative” websites. The net result of such tabloidism is to foment emotional discord and divert political capital down rat holes.

Obama and his leftist ilk are focused and determined. They are engaged in very serious threats to American Liberty, and we undermine our unified front to eradicate those threats when some get sidetracked by sensationalized “news” based too often on only a shred of substance. Of course, headlines generating web traffic are important to sites dependent upon ad revenue – a primary reason that The Patriot Post accepts no advertising and is donor supported.

Our best efforts notwithstanding, on rare occasions our editorial team has included information that was factually inaccurate. Fortunately, our readers are quick to let us know, and we are quick to correct those inaccuracies.

Endeavoring to correct the record and stop the character assassination of Jon Trainer, I devoted much of Wednesday morning writing to colleagues, editors of the more widely recognized conservative media outlets, encouraging them to avoid this story, or correct it if already published. I started with NRO’s Editor Rich Lowry. On Wednesday afternoon, Lowry published a clarification, concluding, “I wanted to provide this fuller context and take the opportunity to salute Trainer for his service to our country.”

We second that salute.

View all comments


durabo in Prescott Valley, AZ said:

What next: a Navy Cross for a mess cook who serves the perfect Baked Alaska? As a former Naval Flight Officer, I would object.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:12 AM

PinoyC in AZ replied:

You would be correct as the Navy Cross actually specifies the requirement to be in great danger at great personal risk. That fact is not true in the wording for the Bronze Star w/o V. The outrage isn't truly justified by anyone on this article's responses as EO was published this way long long ago. I can see disappointment as many believe it to be a direct "combat" medal but it simply isn't.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:48 PM

BlueShadowII in Texas replied:

And how many Bronze Stars have been awarded for service outside a Theater of Operations?

Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Mac in North Carolina said:

I was infuriated to hear the report of this man being awarded a bronze star for such a frivolous deed. If he had any character, he would not have accepted it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Abu Nudnik in Toronto replied:

But the report was wrong, Mac. Didn't you read Mark's essay?

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Mark Alexander in Tennessee replied:

As noted, my purpose was "not to defend the award, but to defend the man in order to set the record straight." Read the essay and THEN comment....

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Shel in Alaska replied:

Mac, I usually agree with your comments, but this time you're way off. If you read Alexander's essay, you would know that the award wasn't solely for his PowerPoint presentation--it was for his entire service rendered during his time in Afghanistan. Having served over there myself, I can tell you that it wouldn't be unusual for someone of the LTC's position to receive a Bronze Star for his going above and beyond in serving the men and women in uniform. You may argue that awards are over-inflated (they are), but you can't argue that the LTC received it solely for his PP--because he didn't. It may have been one line out of several in his citation, which journalists unfairly focused on, rather than on the citation as a whole. In that regard, you're comments are just as reckless.

USAF Maj, Active Duty

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:26 PM

George Creel in Davidsonville, MD said:

Kudos to you for correcting several over-the-top exaggerated 'news' items by our conservative brethren. I hope that some of our hip-shooting fellow conservatives wise-up.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Rob, COL, USArmy (Ret.) in Houston, TX replied:

George Creel hit the nail on its head, in thanking Mark Alexander for doing the digging to set the record straight on Chaplain (LTC) Trainer. As one who reads NRO regularly, I'm quite embarrassed by the editors there allowing NRO to shoot itself in the foot. Keep up the good work, Mr. Alexander, and Semper Fi.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 11:06 PM

Jeff B. in Flower Mound, TX said:

This award brings several discussion points to mind. First and most obviously is the "methodology" used by various Commands and Commanders to dispense awards. If the reader is not familiar to some degree with the military they would be unaware of the fact that in many Commands, those selected for awards are often the leadership in the chain of command, not the folks acually performing the deeds worthy of praise. An example would be the Platoon Leader who never leaves the "wire" of the FOB, yet receives a Bronze Star whilst the troops who perform the daily patrols and route security missions get a "Certificate of Achievement" (which is useful for a trip to the latrine). In this case also there appears to be a skewed value judgement attached to the act and award. My criticism regarding that is reserved for the awarding Chain of Command.

Another item of discussion concerns not the Chaplain, per se, but what remaining in the military and serving under the politically correct military that this Administration has reduced the military to. Let me be clear, I'm a retired Combat Arms Officer. If recalled, I would not serve, not in this military, under these conditions and policies. I could not affirm an oath to participate in actions that are in contradiction to my moral, ethical and religious beliefs. I'm concerned that a such a well educated and gentleman has not fond his service in this military to be in some contradiction to at least his religious beliefs.

As I started out saying, this case brings up a great deal of grist for the mill of philosophical discussion. There's too many important ideas to be considered to become sidetracked in personal attacks on a man who by most standards is a very solid citizen.

Look at what's shaping the action, not the action itself, that's where things get scary.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:23 AM

SandyInIndy in Indianapolis, IN replied:

Understanding now that what I've read may or may not be accurate, I agree with the statements regarding not serving today in this Man's Army, Obama's. Our Military continues to feminize our troups along with introducing PC. As I am a great believer that civilians should not be involved in Military Do & Don't lists, I think "I" would be offended if before handling the Quran I had to put on clean, white gloves, etc. etc. while reading (again ?!?) thousands of King James Bibles being destroyed by my own government/Military. I believe our current prez is extremely harmful to our Military and pray his last term goes quickly and without any further incidents. GOD bless our Military.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Carey Gilbert in Massachusetts said:

Give me one good reason we should respect their holy books when they rape, torture and kill Christians and, burn the Bible openly and publicly.

That "religion of peace" had better look out for that sword that cuts both ways and stop baiting people into a fight they will not win!

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:24 AM

SandyInIndy in Indianapolis, IN replied:

I hope your question is answered!! I, too, do not understand why water-boarding was discussed and condemned while our enemy could and did behead with a spoon!! Execute Christians while we allow a Mosque to be built at Ground Zero.

I've never believed that demeaning myself to make another feel better was a good idea...just look at our schools.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Mark Alexander in Tennessee replied:

You have lumped all Muslims into the category of murderers. What "religion of peace" do you practice?

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Cooneye in North Carolina replied:

If a person is a true Muslim and believes the words of the Koran then a non-Muslim is not treated as PEACEFUl by them.

Three choices for non-Muslims: Convert to Islam, pay Demitude and be subserviant to them or suffer death.

What is peaceful about that Mark?

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Henry in Illinois replied:

Mr.Carey Gilbert in Massachusetts:
I for one, apllaud you, for NO truer words than your's were said about "this hypocrytical religion of pease". Thank You.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 3:15 PM

wizzardous in newjerseystan said:

Gee, had Microsoft PowerPoint been available in 1969, I could have just done a presentation on the too-frequent, on-the-ground sorties into dangerous territory in search of crashed F4Ds instead of leading them in person and never losing a man, and received the same Bronze Star.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:29 AM

Dawn in WI said:

A sad day indeed for America when Barack Hussein Obama was installed in the highest office of this land to be Commander in Chief of honorable military personnel such as LTC Jon Trainer, Chaplain USAF.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM

JR-C in CA said:

Some one should tell Glen Beck he got it wrong. This Lt Col. deserves his Bronze Star. He has done much for our service men.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Tina in Sugar Land, Texas said:

I am glad that the erroneous info regarding the Chaplain has been corrected. Also proud to know that he is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the seminary of the Evangelical Free Church denomination. That is my "home" denomination. I, too, feel prey to misinformation on the internet last week. Someone posted that nidal hassan had been promoted to LTC. I did not realize that the blog site (dufflebag) was satire. Regrettable, I spread the false info to some others. I truly do not think that this matter should have been fodder for satire.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Mark Alexander in Tennessee replied:

Old rule of thumb: "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is." New rule of thumb for the Internet, "If it sounds to absurd to be true, it probably is."

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:06 PM

JR-C in CA said:

You all have to remember that he did not get it for valor, there is not V for valor attached to it. It seems to me that he was in country at the time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:41 AM

LeaTrain in OH replied:

He was not in country at the time. The medal was for service in Afghanistan during his 6 month deployment.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM

JDickey in Gardners, PA replied:

Unless there has been a change of definition in the last forty-some years that I am not aware of, "in country" does not mean in THIS country. It refers to, or did in the dark ages, one's presence in a theater of operations. Hence, there is a distinct difference between Nam Vets who were "in country" versus Nam Era Vets who were stationed elsewhere in a location far far away from Southeast Asia.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:42 PM

American Rifleman in McKeesport,PA.15132 said:

I was asked lonag,if I was a decorated Veteran. I said,"Does mud count?"

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Paul Mudge in Atlanta, GA said:

Bronze Stars come in two types, for Meritorius "work" and for Valor "work."
"Meritorius work" usually does not pertain to a "combat role." "Valor work" usually pertains to a "combat role." The Bronze Star for Valor comes with a "V" symbol which is attached to the medal and the ribbon.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Andy in Katy, Tx said:

While many of these awards have been given for less actions, I still find it reprehensible and dilutes the value of the award substantially. However, thats an opinion contrary to what actions qualify a soldier for the award.
It is:
"The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Army of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, in connection with military operations against an armed enemy; or while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party."

It is within a Commanders purview to make a determination of this sort. While I disagree with his receipt of it and believe a Army Achievement Medal or Army Commendation Medal would have sufficed, someone thought differently. And frankly, many medals such as this and even the Silver Star have been awarded, yes, even self awarded by Officers for a long, long time. John Kerry anyone. Yes, he did have someone who signed off on it but is the Officers Corp ever been without the "good ol boy" system. Not in my 23 years of service.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Mark Alexander in Tennessee replied:

I am inclined to agree with the award of a medal further down the order of precedence. However, again, my purpose was "not to defend the award, but to defend the man in order to set the record straight."

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:11 PM

JD in Noblesville, IN said:

Trying to take credit and getting medals for effort one did not put out is as John Kerry did. He cared so much he threw them away!
This also follows the current progressive efforts that want to make sure ALL our kids get a trophy, whether they won or lost!
Unless you feel the pain - don't expect the medal, period.
Yes, I am a veteran and of Vietnam.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Abu Nudnik in Toronto replied:

What makes you think Kerry threw his medal away? That was *his* story.

Carter gave him his medals back and gave him an honorable discharge. Maybe they stripped him of his medals when they dishonorably discharged him. That's always been my assumption.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Mark Alexander in Tennessee replied:

Speaking of Jimmy Carter, I took my lunch break with the Army JAG officer who prosecuted William Calley for the Mai Lia massacre. Calley was given a life sentence, but served only three days before being pardoned by...drum roll please...Jimmy Carter! BTW, that JAG officer spent a tour in Vietnam as a forward base legal advisor, and never fired his weapon. He did, however received a Bronze Star....

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 2:14 PM

Disgusted '67-'68 'Nam Vet in Cape Cod, MA replied:

NOTHING against the Chaplain- Major. His achievements are most worthy and admirable.
"NON-Combat" achievements are why they have individual COMMENDATION Medals for each service. A meritorious Bronze Star, imho, is a military oxymoron, and should be (an Officially redesignated & requalified, along with a few others) award with a 'V' or not at all. The Military System of today is suffering from an acute, advanced case of PCMDS - Politically-Correct Medal Derangement Syndrome.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 3:52 PM

AJ in VA said:

Should Chaplain Lt Col Trainer have denied the request of his superiors, namely Gen Allen, to compile these training instructions on the handling of Islamic materials? As another poster has stated, it is a sad day when immoral men, such as Barack Hussein Obama, direct our military.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:04 PM