Stephens Media owner calls for more transparency on valor awards
By STEVE TETREAULT
Stephens Washington Bureau
NEW YORK — The Pentagon should make it easier to learn more about service members who are recognized for performing acts of heroism, according to the head of a media organization that chronicled dozens of stories about U.S. military valor overseas.
Warren Stephens, president and chief executive officer of Stephens Inc., and an owner of Stephens Media, issued the call on Monday while accepting an award for a series published in 2009 and 2010 by the Stephens Media newspapers, including the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today.
“Saluting American Valor” was awarded the 2012 Excellence in Media Award by Fedcap, a New York-based nonprofit that provides vocational training and jobs for veterans and others challenged to find work.
The series that ran for 54 days in November and December 2009, and monthly over the next year, told the stories of 86 U.S. service members recognized for heroism in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they were awarded the Silver Star, the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star with Valor attachment and other medals.
Included were stories about the 10 service members who were granted the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest acknowledgement for “personal bravery and self-sacrifice.” Seven of the awardees were killed in the line of duty.
The project profiled “some incredible individuals who did extraordinary things on behalf of this country and their fellow soldiers,” Stephens told an audience of about 400 at Fedcap’s annual dinner at the New York Public Library.
Stephens said it was a challenge to identify and locate subjects for the stories. It became necessary for project editors to approach each branch of the military individually because the process for awarding and reporting valor medals was decentralized throughout the Pentagon.
As it faced continued pressure from archivists, the Pentagon this summer established a searchable system for valor awards, in part to root out fraudsters who lie about having served in the military and earning medals. However, the database has been criticized for containing errors and still not being complete.
“I hope our military will make access to this type of information easier in the future,” Stephens said.
The award was presented by Marie Tillman, widow of Pat Tillman, who famously quit a pro football career in 2002 to join the U.S. Army Rangers but who was killed in Afghanistan two years later.
Tillman, who heads a foundation in her late husband’s name, said the valor series “told stories that really matter, the ones that will outlive us all, the stories of brave men and women who answered the call.”
The stories are posted on an interactive website, www.americanvalor.net, and were compiled in a book, “Saluting American Valor,” published by Stephens Press.
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