Saturday, August 30, 2008

Governor General announces new Sacrifice Medal for wounded, killed in action

1 day ago

OTTAWA — The Governor General has announced the creation of a new medal, equivalent to the U.S. Purple Heart, as a way of acknowledging soldiers and civilians killed or wounded by hostile fire.

For the military, the Sacrifice Medal will replace the understated army tradition of awarding wound stripes - small strips of gold braid worn on the left sleeve - which dates back to the First World War.

Diplomatic and development staff, as well as civilian contractors, who are increasingly in the line of fire in Afghanistan, are also eligible for the award. However, journalists embedded with the Canadian military and Canadians working for international aid agencies don't qualify.

"Our soldiers deserve our utmost respect and deepest gratitude," Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean said in a statement.

"This medal recognizes the valued contribution of those who sacrificed their health or their lives while serving Canada."

The round, silver medal is 36 millimetres across, has a clasp at the top of it in the form of the Royal Crown and is attached to red, black and white ribbon.

There's a profile of the Queen on one side wearing a crown of maple leaves and snow flakes and an image from the Vimy Memorial on the other side with the word "Sacrifice."

Eligibility for the medal has been backdated to Oct. 7, 2001, meaning it will be posthumously awarded to the 93 soldiers and one diplomat killed in Afghanistan since the war began. Hundreds of wounded soldiers are also eligible.

Recognition for those who made the ultimate sacrifice was a major consideration when criteria were established, said Marie-Paule Thorn, a spokeswoman for the Governor General.

Limiting the medal to the Afghan conflict irks both the Royal Canadian Legion and individual veterans who have been fighting for years for a medal to replace the wound stripe.

"We're please for veterans," said Bob Butt, communications director for the Legion. "We were hoping it would go back beyond the date (the government) has made it retroactive to, but they haven't done that.

"Although we still support the medal. Anything that honours somebody who serves in the Canadian Forces is a good thing."

The notion of replacing the voluntary wound stripe, first introduced in 1916, was controversial within the rank and file of the army.

Soldiers don't like to talk about wounds. Many brush off injuries as something to be expected in their line of work and say medals only draw unwanted attention.

Thorn said the regulations allow a soldier to decide whether or not to wear the medal in public.

The steady stream of casualties coming out of Afghanistan in the fall of 2006 prompted many veterans to clamour for recognition of the wounded.

Murray Sinnott, an ex-soldier and retired city police officer from Windsor, Ont., started a grassroots campaign for a medal he called the Crimson Maple Leaf.

But Sinnott, a former member of the Canadian Guards regiment, doesn't like the idea of giving the medal to civilians.

"It should be for soldiers under hostile fire, not some civilian contractor hiding a bunker who happens to get shrapnel in his leg," he said in an interview.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, who also campaigned for wounded veterans, disagreed, saying all Canadians who put themselves in harm's way deserve the recognition.

The guidelines drawn up by the Directorate of Honours and Recognition at National Defence stipulate that only civilians employed by the federal government - either directly or on contract - qualify for the medal.

The definition covers diplomatic and development staff as well as civilian contractors in Afghanistan.

This is the second new medal introduced this year. A new, Canadian version of the Victoria Cross was unveiled in the spring as the highest honour that can be awarded for battlefield bravery.

Fallen, wounded soldiers in line for new medal
The Queen has approved an award for troops injured or killed in Afghanistan since October, 2001


August 30, 2008

HALIFAX -- Members of the Canadian military killed or injured in combat will be in line to receive a new Sacrifice Medal similar to the U.S. Purple Heart, the Governor-General announced yesterday.

Eligibility for the medal will be back-dated to October, 2001, meaning that it may be awarded to all those killed or wounded during the entire Afghan conflict. Recipients must have been injured seriously enough to require treatment and result in a medical report, said Marie-Paule Thorn, a spokeswoman for Rideau Hall.

"I would imagine they'd better start minting them pretty fast, because I think we've probably got a backlog of about 1,000," said retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie. "When people talk about the few hundred we've had wounded, seriously wounded, they don't include the people hit in a roadside bomb and then back at work the next day."

The new medal is similar in intent to the Purple Heart, which is awarded to U.S armed forces personnel who sustain wounds serious enough to require medical attention, among other criteria. While Purple Hearts are often awarded soon after hostile action, with active units sometimes keeping a supply on hand, the Sacrifice Medal will come only after an application through military channels by a commanding officer.

The medal is a silver circle 36 millimetres across, with a claw at the top of it in the form of the royal crown and attached to a straight slotted bar. One side depicts the Queen, whose headgear includes a maple leaf motif, and the other side bears the statue from the Vimy Memorial in France and the single word "Sacrifice."

No date has been set for the first presentation of the new medal. Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean will preside over the inaugural ceremony and thereafter they will be presented on her behalf.

This is the latest of a burst of awards created in recent years and the country has now filled the obvious gaps in its lineup of military decorations, an expert on the honours system said yesterday.

"We're finally becoming more attuned to the need to recognize those who serve," said Christopher McCreery, the author of five books on the honours system. "The system of creating honours is catching up to the reality."

Injured members of the Canadian military have traditionally received a "wound stripe" to wear on the sleeve of their uniforms or civilian clothing. This is a practice going back, with some interruptions, to the First World War.

"It's something sons wore and their fathers wore before them," Dr. McCreery said of the wound stripe. "I think people will be a bit torn. But this is a much more tangible symbol. I think the vast majority of the [Canadian Forces] will be pleased."

Mr. Mackenzie praised the new award as being "more visible" and involving "more ceremony" than the old system.

"It's overdue and the only thing that'll be controversial is those people wounded since the end of the Cold War who won't get it," he said.

According to Ms. Thorn, the Rideau Hall spokeswoman, there is a five-year retroactive eligibility for awards, counting from the time an honour is initially proposed. That allows the Sacrifice Medal to be backdated to the start of the Afghan conflict, but doesn't allow it to apply to casualties from Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia and the Gulf War.