The Optics of Heroism

Below is a summary of how our USAF is handling Airman First Class Spencer Stone’s heroic actions taking down a terrorist last week on a train in France. A few thoughts:

1. The Air Force comes off as bureaucratic by not immediately awarding A1C Stone a Purple Heart. Do train robbers use an AK-47 with hundreds of rounds of ammo? No. The terrorist is probably hoping to avoid the harshest of penalties by claiming he was just a criminal. So France, FRANCE, awards him the nation’s highest honor without skipping a beat.


2. By saying A1C Stone only qualifies for an Airman’s Medal rewarding a heroic act, usually at the voluntary risk of his or her life but not involving actual combat, the Air Force misses the opportunity to point out to the World that the Global War on Terror is global and the “battlefield “ is everywhere. This medal is significant, but it is below what General’s get as a retirement medal. “Optics” is a word used to concisely describe how an action is perceived. The Air Force failed miserably this time around.

“Heroic” A1C Up For Airman’s Medal


​A1C Spencer Stone, the airman credited with stopping a terrorist attack on a high-speed train in France, will be nominated for the Airman’s Medal, the service’s highest medal for non-combat action. Stone’s unit, the 65th Air Base Group at Lajes Field, Azores, will nominate him for the medal, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a Monday press conference at the Pentagon. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the service will consider awarding Stone a Purple Heart if the attack is deemed a “terrorist-related event,” but Stone does not qualify for other valor awards, such as the Bronze Star with Valor, because it was not combat activity. The Defense Department did award the Purple Heart to victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. James said Stone’s action stopped a “bloodbath” on the train in the Aug. 21 attack.

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