President Barack Obama on Wednesday received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, prompting a backlash from critics that include former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. But the award is more common than they apparently know, as numerous senior officials have received it, including the last two presidents.
The award was adopted in 1947 and recognizes “exceptionally distinguished service of significance to the Department of Defense as a whole or distinguished service of such exceptional significance” to a part of the Defense Department for their awards to be considered insufficient, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the award.
“The service or assistance may have been rendered at considerable personal sacrifice and inconvenience that was motivated by patriotism, good citizenship, and a sense of public responsibility,” the fact sheet said.
Palin criticized the decision Wednesday night, saying “this is what happens when you grow up thinking every kid gets a trophy.” She shared a Breitbart News Network story with the sarcastic, if incorrect, headline: “President Obama awards himself Distinguished Public Service Medal.”
Obama said Wednesday that he has had “no greater privilege and no greater honor” than serving as commander in chief of the U.S. military. Presidents and service members take a similar oath, he said.
“You committed yourself to a life of service and of sacrifice,” Obama said. “And I in turn, made a promise to you, which to the best of my abilities I tried to uphold every single day since. That I would only send you into harm’s way when it was absolutely necessary, with a strategy and well defined goals, with the equipment and support that you needed to get the job done. Because that’s what you rightfully expect and that is what you rightfully deserve.”
In January 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave outgoing President George W. Bush the award at a similar ceremony. Then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen did the same with President Bill Clinton in January 2001.
Cohen also presented director Steven Spielberg with the award in 1999 for the film “Saving Private Ryan.” The movie, Cohen said, “poignantly captured the stirring sacrifices of America’s World War II heroes, and paid living tribute to their indomitable fighting spirit,” the award citation said.
Cohen also credited the Spielberg film with prompting veterans to tell their own war stories.
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