The note below, from a friend in the Army, is interesting. The Army is formally stating that of course combat is continuing in Iraq, and indeed it is "prevalent." It is unusual for the Army to come right out and say the emperor has no clothes, but I think it had to in this case, because soldiers take medals seriously.
A little over a month ago, we watched the last combat unit (Brigade Combat Team or BCT) leave Iraq. It even occurred a few days earlier than the deadline. Of course, we all know that there are still close to 50,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, predominantly in what are now known as AABs (or Advise and Assist Brigades).
However, if one reads the ALARACT (All Army Activities) and MILPER (Military Personnel) messages concerning Operation New Dawn, one has to wonder if combat operations are really over or not.
For example, here is part of the message concerning wartime awards and badges (emphasis is mine):
"ALARACT 314/2010 CLARIFICATION ON WARTIME AWARDS AND BADGES FOR OPERATION NEW DAWN, DTG 051621Z OCT 10.
This message provides clarification on the awarding of wartime awards and badges for Operation New Dawn (OND). Effective 1 Sep 10, OND began signifying an end to combat operations in Iraq. However, combat conditions are still prevalent. Due to the nature of combat conditions, wartime awards will continue to be issued in theater until a date to be determined. Commanders will continue to process retroactive award recommendation through their peacetime chain of command to…"
So, we aren't executing combat operations, BUT we still have combat conditions. In conjunction with this, Hostile Fire Pay (rightly, in my mind) continues to be paid to those serving in Iraq and environs.
Another example… this one concerns expeditionary and service medals (emphasis is again mine):
"MILPER MESSAGE NUMBER 10-261 OPERATION NEW DAWN - REVISED CAMPAIGN, EXPEDITIONARY AND SERVICE MEDAL POLICY, ISSUED: [05 OCT 10].
This message provides revised campaign, expeditionary and service medal policy for Operation New Dawn (OND). On Feb 17, 10, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum to change the name of OIF to OND. This memorandum incorporates OND into DOD policy for award of the ICM, GWOTEM, and GWOTSM. OND will not mark the beginning of a new campaign phase for the ICM. See the message for more information."
I find the second one interesting in that the change from OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) to OND isn't even considered a new campaign phase for the Iraqi Campaign Medal. Interesting indeed.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.