The Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr
The Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr is a visible mark of recognition for outstanding achievements. The first ones were awarded in 1980. The mission in Afghanistan prompted the introduction of a new level: the Bundeswehr Cross of Honour for Valour.
The Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr – also a decoration for heroes
Afghanistan, 5 March 2010. Two platoons of the Quick Reaction Force were patrolling on foot near the village of Gerdan. During a surprise attack, insurgents wounded the company commander with a shot in the thigh. He could no longer command the troops. No other officer was in the area. Then, on his own initiative, the company headquarters section leader took command. In the ensuing 90-minute battle, this sergeant coordinated fire and manoeuvre. He had the wounded company commander rescued from the danger zone, moved away from the insurgents and ensured that his soldiers survived the battle unharmed. For this extraordinary individual act in which he risked life and limb, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, then the Federal Minister of Defence, awarded him the special version of the Gold Cross of Honour of the Bundeswehr.
The Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr is awarded in five levels:
- The Medal of Honour of the Bundeswehr
- The Bronze Cross of Honour of the Bundeswehr
- The Silver Cross of Honour of the Bundeswehr
- The Gold Cross of Honour of the Bundeswehr
- The Bundeswehr Cross of Honour for Valour
The Medal of Honour of the Bundeswehr is awarded for faithful performance of duty and superior achievements, after a service period of seven months. These achievements are honoured with the Bronze Cross of Honour after a service period of five years, the Silver Cross of Honour after ten years and the Gold Cross of Honour after twenty. In 2008, two more special versions of the Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr were added in addition to the decoration for valour: the Silver Cross of Honour with red edging for outstanding achievements, in particular outstanding individual valorous acts that did not involve risking life and limb, and the Gold Cross of Honour with red edging for such accomplishments that did mean risking life and limb. This means that there is also a visible difference between these Bundeswehr decorations and those awarded for faithful performance of duty and superior achievements. The special gold version generally honours extraordinary individual acts on deployments outside Germany. The special silver version is primarily awarded for rescues and first aid performed in Germany.
The Bundeswehr Cross of Honour for Valour
The requirements for the Cross of Honour for Valour are even stricter than those for the special versions. They call for courageous, steadfast and persevering conduct to accomplish a military mission at extraordinary risk to life and limb. Ranks, tours of duty or other set periods are irrelevant. According to Section 7 of the Legal Status of Military Personnel Act, bravery is one of the basic duties of servicemen and women. They swear or pledge “[…] to bravely defend the rights and freedom of the German people”. No other profession requires a comparable commitment. From the outset, this implies the acceptance of a basic threat to their physical integrity.
A rare honour
Federal Minister of Defence Franz Josef Jung introduced the Cross of Honour for Valour on 13 August 2008. The growing number of Bundeswehr operations around the world prompted him to introduce the new decoration. These operations place tremendous demands on the servicemen and women who risk life and limb there. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel awarded the first four Crosses of Honour for Valour on 6 July 2009 in Berlin. To date, this Bundeswehr decoration has been awarded 28 times. The majority of recipients are infantry personnel. This figure also includes four posthumous decorations. All of these decorations were awarded for acts of outstanding courage during the ISAFInternational Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
The road to the award
The Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr is a national decoration, approved by the Federal President and subject to the Law on Titles, Medals and Decorations (Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen) of 26 July 1957. This means that only the Federal Minister can award the Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr. This prevents superior officers from awarding these decorations “freehandedly”.
In 2017, a total of 2,475 out of 5,000 possible Badges of Honour of the Bundeswehr were awarded. Of this number, 339 were received by nonrated personnel, 1,349 by noncommissioned officers in the forces and 742 by officers. Civilians received 45 Badges of Honour of the Bundeswehr. 70 reservists from all career groups were among those decorated. Before a Federal Minister of Defence approves a recipient for this decoration, the proposal must undergo multiple reviews.
A decoration with a long history
On 12 November 1980, Federal Minister of Defence Hans Apel awarded the first 34 Badges of Honour of the Bundeswehr to military and civilian personnel. This date was the 225th anniversary of the birth of the Prussian military reformer Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst. Until then, the Bundeswehr had not had any decorations or awards of its own. Since the 1957 Law on Titles, Medals and Decorations, there had been multiple attempts to create a decoration for faithful service, for example for five, ten or twenty years of loyalty, for all public servants, or a military service medal. It was only the Bundeswehr Reservist Association’s 1975 request to Federal Minister of Defence Georg Leber to introduce a military service medal that got the ball rolling.
For merit – not an “award for sticking around”
In 1978, Leber decided that there should be a medal for merit designated for service conscripts. However, the Army, Air Force and Navy also argued in favour of a decoration for temporary-career volunteers and career service members who had served longer. In 1980, Federal President Karl Carstens agreed to the introduction of a Bundeswehr decoration. In consultation with the Office of the Federal President, it was decided that the decoration should not be awarded merely for serving for a certain period of time – in other words, it should not be an “award for sticking around” – but rather honour merit. The merit was to go beyond the kind of achievements that are honoured with a formal commendation in accordance with the Military Disciplinary Code. Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt agreed to the idea, so the Federal Cabinet was informed of the planned introduction of the decoration at its meeting on 20 August 1980. Federal Minister of Defence Apel then issued a decree on 6 November 1980 introducing the Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr to mark its 25-year history.