First, a brief review from Wikipedia about the Bronze Star is in order. The Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. It is customarily awarded under three circumstances:
-- While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
-- While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
-- While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
Evidence later presented in this post will show that Joe Miller clearly met the first two criteria; he was engaged in action against an enemy of the United States, and he was engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
To effectively establish the legitimacy of Joe Miller's Bronze Star, we must consult three sources to form a complete picture. First, we turn to the specific citation accompanying the award of the Bronze Star, which is posted HERE:
Meritorious Achievement during the period 17 January 1991 to 6 March 1991, while assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), Operation Desert Storm. His selfless actions were key to the flawless execution of the unit's mission, the liberation of Kuwait, and the ultimate defeat of the Iraqi Army. Second Lieutenant Miller's tireless devotion to duty truly exemplifies the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon him, the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the United States Army.
However, since the Bronze Star was awarded for meritorious service, the citation does not spell out the specific actions warranting the recognition. To find out more, we must next turn to the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) written on Joe Miller which encompasses the same time period covered by the Bronze Star. The applicable OER, covering the period November 23rd, 1990 through June 21st, 1991 is posted HERE:
Comment on Specific Acts of the Performance: 1LT Miller is the epitome of the combat arms platoon leader. He constantly exceeds the standard and attains his objectives in both peace and in war. His technical competence as the Unit Movement Officer ensured the flawless preparation for deployment to and redeployment from the Southwest Asia Theatre of Operations. 1LT Miller thoroughly trained and rehearsed his platoon prior to combat resulting in his platoon's swift and decisive action in combat without suffering any casualties or incidences of fratricide. He destroyed an Iraqi patrol along the Saudi/Iraqi border on 18 February 1991. Because of his superior tactical proficiency, his platoon led the 1st Brigade 150 km road-march in preparation for the ground offensive and Task Force 5-16th's tactical movement throughout the ground offensive. 1LT Miller is a true warrior leader tested under fire. He is a valuable member of A Company who contributed significantly to the company's overwhelming success during Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
Note that Joe Miller was also promoted to First Lieutenant sometime after the award of the Bronze Star. That's another indication that it was genuine. Also note that Joe Miller not only was directly involved in combat, but his platoon was chosen to be one of the lead units to launch the ground war. Taking the "point" position is considered one of the ultimate tests of courage in combat.
And finally, to establish the difficulty of the expectations imposed upon Joe Miller, we turn to his official job description posted on the same OER:
Principal Duty Title: Tank Platoon Leader. (Job Description) Platoon Leader of an M1A1 Tank Platoon in a CONUS-based deployable tank battalion. Responsible for the training, health, and welfare of 15 armor crewmen. Responsible for the maintenance and property accountability of 4 M1A1 Tanks and other assigned MTOE equipment valued at $6,650,00,00. Assigned the following company additional duties: Unit Movement Officer, Unit Publication Officer, Hazardous Cargo Officer, Fire Prevention Officer, and and Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Officer.
Those additional duties weren't just "eyewash", either. Joe Miller was expected to execute those additional duties on a regular basis. Many of them involve providing recurring training in those areas to all other troops in the entire company (not just his platoon). And he was undoubtedly held accountable for the success of those programs; during higher headquarters unit inspections, whether they would be to measure operational readiness or program management, inspectors would examine and evaluate Miller's maintenance of those programs. This, of course, is in additional to his primary duty of platoon commander.
The bottom line: Joe Miller's Bronze Star is totally legitimate according to the standards in place at the time. The fact that 22,000 troops received Bronze Stars from Desert Storm could indicate some decoration inflation. But it's much more likely to reflect the incredible success of Desert Storm's outcome. Desert Storm represented the most one-sided military victory in American military history. It implies more than a few people did something right. Should we denigrate their achievements simply because more of them didn't get wounded or killed?