Army human resources officials removed two foreign foot march awards from the service’s authorized-for-wear list Wednesday morning, and many of the Army’s most-popular foreign awards could be in jeopardy, some fear.
Service officials updated the Army’s awards regulation to ban soldiers from wearing the Holland Four Day Event Cross or Luxembourg’s International March of Diekirch Medal, according to a post from a restricted-access discussion forum. A source shared photos of the discussion thread with Army Times.
Human Resources Command officials did not respond to questions from Army Times before this story’s publication deadline.
The Diekirch Medal, which commemorates a 14th century Luxembourgish king, is awarded to those who complete at least a 12.4-mile foot march, with different degrees of the award and devices available to those who push farther.
Traditionally, the march occurs in-person, through the rolling terrain of the Ardennes Forest in northern Luxembourg. But this year, the country’s defense ministry opted to organize a remote event that’s been ongoing since April. Participants were asked to pay a $20 fee to cover the shipping and handling for the medal and certificate.
That spawned a popular post Sunday on a Reddit community for U.S. troops, explaining how they could organize their own March of Diekirch events.
Similar virtual events have been occurring for the Norwegian Foot March badge, with more than 11,000 troops attempting the grueling event between November 2020 and July 2021, an officer who helped organize events with Norway’s embassy wrote in a Reddit post. Now the Norwegians have opted to permanently permit remote marches (without a Norwegian military official present) that meet their standards.
In a feature story written by a Norwegian tabloid curious about rising American interest in a small badge, soldiers reported enjoying the challenge and the team-building aspects of the event.
A sudden policy change catches criticism
But as interest began to surge in organizing March of Diekirch events, officials at Human Resources Command quickly intervened.
“It has come to our attention that the International March of Diekirch hosted by Luxembourg [is] being held virtually, which goes directly against Army Policy,” argued HRC official Dennis Christensen in a post to MilSuite’s popular S1Net channel. “Further research showed that this event as well as the Holland Four Day Event Cross are charging fees for their events...These awards CANNOT be worn.”
Christensen explained that HRC interprets the Diekirch march’s virtual format to violate a May 2021 directive that revised the service awards regulation to say “only those [foreign] badges that are awarded in recognition of military activities conducted by the military department of the host country are authorized for acceptance and permanent wear.”
The HRC civilian added, “paying a fee for an event is interpreted by our office to be the service member requesting or otherwise encouraging the offer of an award,” which would violate a Defense Department instruction.
Other members of the discussion forum responded harshly to the change, as did members of the Army Reddit community who vented their frustration in varying ways, ranging from profanity-laced rants to memes. Army Times is not publishing the names of S1Net commenters who criticized the policy in a limited-access forum.
One commenter on S1Net asked HRC to “further explain the rational behind your interpretation of an admin fee as an encouragement for offering the award,” pointing out that the Army Ten Miler charges an $89 registration fee.
Another pointed out that recent Norwegian Foot March events were conducted remotely and that not all events for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge — a popular foreign badge — require a German military official. “Why is this one any different?” he asked.
One soldier whose battalion “already...has over 50 registrants for the [March of Diekirch] event we will be conducting in September” responded.
“The event is still entirely run with oversight by the Government of Luxembourg and the fee covers event-connected expenses...and we will have representation for the Luxembourgish Embassy attending,” he said. “If anything, this is a slap in the face of...our Allies in Luxembourg.”
“The [march] is an exciting, team-building, morale boosting opportunity,” he continued. “We’re not talking about Soldiers going for a walk in the park and earning a medal. This is a difficult task in direct coordination with a foreign government and NATO Ally.”
He also highlighted that soldiers had previously received the award and have been authorized to wear it.
“Why would you take something earned away from Soldiers, especially during the current state of recruiting and retention?” he asked.
Another commenter, a lieutenant colonel, challenged HRC officials on their interpretation of the regulations. He argued that the agency was being needlessly more restrictive than DoD policy requires, and questioned whether cracking down on an event that would improve unit cohesion was in line with the priorities of the service’s senior leaders.
It’s not clear how HRC’s interpretation of the fee policy will impact long-standing events for the Norwegian Foot March or foreign parachutist wings that have required charitable donations of food or toys, either.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.