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Combat Badge Recognizes Grunts Only For 55 years, the famed Combat Infantryman's Badge has been a coveted symbol of recognition for U.S. Army foot soldiers. Just recently, a new group of GIs who battled Marxist rebels for more than a decade in Central America finally became eligible for it. All CIB holders are qualified for VFW membership.

In February, the Army announced that U.S. soldiers who fought in E1 Salvador's civil war can be considered for the Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB) and the Combat Medical Badge (CMB). The decision reversed the Army's 15-year-old position that had denied the coveted badge to these deserving vets. The Army's reluctance was mainly due to domestic politics and Pentagon red tape.

Eligible soldiers must have served in the infantry or Special Forces and have been under hostile fire in El Salvador between Jan. 1,1981, and Feb. 1,1992. Approximately 5,000 GIs served in El Salvador during the designated period.

Awardee Must See Combat

The CIB is not an award dispensed lightly. Army Regulation (AR) 672-5-1 clearly outlines the requirements for awarding the CIB. First and foremost, a recipient must have an infantry military occupational specialty (MOS). This indudes not only infantry regulars, but also tactical infantry advisors, Rangers, Special Forces and airborne troops with the requisite MOS.

He must also be an infantry officer in the grade of colonel or below, a warrant officer or an enlisted man.

An awardee must satisfactorily perform his duty while assigned or attached to an infantry brigade, regiment, battalion, company or smaller-size unit during any period such unit was engaged in active ground combat. Mere presence in the hostile area or battle participation doesn't always entitle a soldier to a CIB.

No Time Requirements

No specific amount of documented time in actual combat has ever been necessary to earn the CIB, with one exception.

Korea DMZ (subsequent to Jan. 4, 1969) infantrymen must have served 60 days in the hostile fire area and engaged in an exchange of small arms fire on at least five occasions. They must also have been authorized hostile fire pay. Each CIB must be recommended personally by a commander and approved at division level.

One DMZ vet, Maj. R.M. Cheek, remembered what his platoon sergeant told him: "You'll get your CIB along with your Purple Heart:' Requirements concerning the number of days and firefights were waived if an infantryman was killed or wounded as a direct result of action.

'70% of the Fighting and Dying'

Many combat veterans have been engaged in extensive, long-term, close combat and are not qualified for the CIB. Excluded are artillerymen (including forward observers), armored cavalry recon troops, tank crewmen, military police and combat engineers. Combat medics, of course, rate the Combat Medical Badge if they were assigned or attached to small infantry units in combat.

In World War II and Korea, roughly one of every 10 Army Medal of Honor recipients (excluding Air Forces) did not qualify for the CIB.

In Vietnam, the 716th Military Police Battalion lost 27 KIA and 44 WIA while engaging the enemy during the Tet Offensive of 1968. The unit was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its heroic performance, but officially none of its members qualified for the CIB.

As Eric C. Ludvigsen wrote in Army: "The CIB was created for infantrymen in infantry units at a time [19431 when they were doing 70% of the fighting and dying, a proportion that has not changed much despite the ever-increasing application of technology to war, and is likely to increase in infantry-oriented, low-intensity conflict."

Original 'Fighter Badge'

Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, then the Army Ground Forces commanding general, was instrumental in creating the CIB. He originally recommended that it be called the "fighter badge." It was established by a War Department circular issued Oct. …