Early this year, news of the passing of Col James Adamu Koto set me thinking about the painful loss of this physically strong
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Author: Brigadier General Samuel Yanyi-Akofur (Rtd) (see Profile at end)

Early this year, news of the passing of Col James Adamu Koto set me thinking about the painful loss of this physically strong, professionally competent and affable officer of GMA Intake 20. In fact, sometime in February or March 2022, Intake 20 Officers were full of congratulations for James, when photos of his participation, as a young Officer, in one of the annual physically demanding Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) Ranger Pre-Selection courses emerged and were posted on the Intake’s WhatsApp platform.

Despite this immense physical strength, James ended up limping for the last 15 years of his military life because of a very severe injury he suffered, while deployed on UN Military Observer (MILOB) duties in Iran-Iraq. James was shot by some non-state agents, who fired into the MILOBs living area and hit him in the hip. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered the full use of his limb, but instead he took this mishap in its strides and pursued higher education up to master’s degree level.

My biggest sadness about the late James’ injury and indeed that of so many other GAF soldiers, who suffer serious injuries or even die during peacekeeping duty tours and other military operations, is that they are never given appropriate personal recognition through the award of military awards. A former United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister – Winston Churchill is quoted to have said that “A nation that fails to honour its heroes, soon will have no heroes to honour.” Abraham Lincoln – a former President of the United States of America (USA), reechoed similar sentiments when he said that “A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

The US State Department in 2010 stated in one of its Manuals that “Military awards and decorations are distinctions given as a mark of honour for military heroism, meritorious or outstanding service or achievement” and that “it is often a medal consisting of a ribbon and a medallion”.

In an attempt to underline the value of military medals awarded to deserving personnel, one author, David Rosalie (1998) wrote that these decorations date back to ancient times, when the “Egyptian Old Kingdom (who) had the Order of the Golden Collar … and the New Kingdom (who) awarded the Order of the Golden Fly.” Rosalie added that “Romans wore a torc or received other military decorations such as the hasta pura, a spear without a tip.” He further stated that “necklaces and bracelets were given during the early Middle Ages, evolving into richly jewelled big necklaces, often with a pendant (commonly a medal) attached.”

Other ancient medals include the Austro-Hungarian Tapferkeits Medaille Honour Medal awarded for Bravery (1789–1792) and Poland’s War Order of Virtuti Militari or “For Military Valour”, first awarded in 1792.

The US Department of Defence has stated that the earliest American military award was the Badge of Military Merit, created by General G. Washington in 1782 to honour enlisted soldiers, who “displayed unusual gallantry or extraordinary fidelity”. In 1932, the heart-shaped piece of cloth evolved into the Purple Heart. Other medals awarded to USA military personnel are The Medal of Honour, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Commendation Medals, among others.

The US military medals cover a wide range of reasons like “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty”, “extraordinary heroism in combat” “exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility” “gallantry in action”, “superior or exceptionally meritorious service”, heroism in combat zone or “meritorious service in a war zone”, “for wounds suffered in combat”. Others are the “Presidential Unit Citations”, “General Service medals”, “Marksmanship awards”, “Good conduct medals”, etc.

In most NATO militaries, only the service ribbons are normally worn on everyday occasions as opposed to the actual medals. Each award is clearly explained and regulated to ensure only genuinely qualified personnel are awarded the right category of medals.

UK military medals and ribbons include military orders and decorations, military campaign medals, coronation, jubilee and durbar medals, efficiency and long service decorations and medals, national independence medals, etc. The highest UK military gallantry award, introduced in 1940, is the George Cross, which is equal in stature to the Victoria Cross.

In China, the Order of August the First medal, originally established in 1955 and re-established in 2017, is the highest military award for members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who served during the Chinese Civil War. It is awarded to “military personnel who have meritorious service in upholding sovereignty, security and development interests of the state and promoting the modernization of national defense and the armed forces.”

These examples illustrate that most modern militaries award medals to deserving soldiers. Generally, the procedure for the award of military medals starts with a recommendation, which is a full statement submitted by a commanding officer, stating why a medal should be awarded to a soldier. Such statements include certified medical reports and other appropriate documentation to support the recommendation. The recommendations are approved along the chain of the military command structure, ending up with the Head of State, who is also Commander-in-Chief. In the USA, the practice is that recommendations for the medal should be submitted within 3 years of the valorous act and the presentation done within 5 years.

Ghana also awards medals to her military personnel, who excel in combat or other duties. At the national level, there are five categories, namely, in order of precedence, the Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana, The Star, River Volta, Gallantry and Grand Medal. The military medals awarded to personnel include Officer of the Order of the Star of Ghana (OSG) (Military Division); Member of the Order of the Star of Ghana (MSG), (Military), Companion of the Order of the Volta (CV) (Military Division); Officer of the Order of the Volta (OV) (Military Division); Member of the Order of the Volta (MV) (Military Division); Medal for Gallantry (MG) (Military Division); Grand Medal (Military Division).

Former recipients of these national awards include Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) GM Hamidu, Lt Gen BK Akafia, Rear Admiral (R/Adm) JK Amedume, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) GY Boakye, Major General (Maj Gen) EA Erskine, Maj Gen NA Odartey-Wellington and Lt Gen A Quainoo. Others are Maj Gen FWK Akuffo, Colonel (Col) JM Ewa and Lt Gen JH Smith. Other notable military personnel who have been awarded the Grand Medal (Military Division) are Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Baba Abu, Lt Col JN Adinkrah, Lt Col EK Akyea-Mensah, Warrant Officer Class Two (WO11) G Kwadzode, WO1 J Baba, WO1 I Frimpong, Lt Col WM Mensah-Wood and Lt Col V Coker-Appiah, among others.

It is important to stress that these medals were awarded to the above listed personalities for loyalty and devotion to duty, and not necessarily for gallantry and heroism. That of Lt Col Adinkrah and WO11 J Baba are however, listed as awards for military service.

It is instructive to state that Lance Corporal (L/Cpl) Grunshie (later became an RSM), while serving with British military in World War 1 (WW1), as part of the Gold Regiment of the West African Frontier Force was Mentioned in Dispatches (MiD) and also received the Distinguished Conduct medal and military medal for bravery.

Another Ghanaian soldier, Maj Seth Anthony served in the 81st West African Division of the British military in Burma, and was MiD on several occasions and appointed Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). He was also decorated with the Burma Star Badge in 2008 by Field Marshall Slim’s son, who incidentally travelled to Ghana for that purpose. In 2007, President Kufuor awarded Maj S Anthony with the MSG in recognition of his prowess in jungle warfare. The Ghana Army also named its Jungle Warfare School at Achiase after Maj S Anthony in recognition of his military exploits.

GAF has also been awarding the following non-combat related medals: the Long Service and Good Conduct medals after 15 years of service since July 1960. The June 4th Revolution Day and 31 December Revolution Day medals were awarded to personnel for the military revolts in Ghana. Other medals awarded to GAF personnel are Military Cross Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, UN Congo Medal, EC West African States Monitoring Group in Liberia Medal, UNIFIL medal, UN Middle East Medal, Republic Commemorative Medal, 50th Anniversary of Independence. Others are 10th Anniversary Revolution Service Medal, Ghana Air Force Golden Jubilee Medal, etc.

It is important to stress that these medals listed above were for commemorations, flying, peacekeeping, Republic days, good conduct, long service, etc. These are definitely well deserved but are general in nature and not for individual exhibition of gallantry, heroism, bravery, severe injuries, etc. Additionally, GAF has erected impressive cenotaphs at the Burma Camp entrance traffic lights, in Accra and also in Kumasi, showing a list military personnel, who fell in the course of military operations.

The specific details captured on the Burma Camp cenotaphs are the military operations and the number of casualties. They include UNIFIL-21; ECOMOG-25; UNEF-6; UNTAC-1; UNAMIR-4; Op Gongong (Internal Ops)-5; WW11-45. The Kumasi cenotaph shows the list of some GAF soldiers who fell during WW1. Unfortunately, the Cenotaphs do not capture details of soldiers, who were severely wounded, while participating in GAF military operations.

It is strongly felt that GAF should urgently institute measures to award medals to deserving military personnel for exhibiting bravery, gallantry, courage, etc, during military operations. Medals can be awarded posthumously to children, spouses, close relations or next of kin. GAF could set up a committee that would liaise with other modern militaries to revamp the practice of awarding medals to individual soldiers, who exhibit bravery during military operations. Indeed, GAF should also copy the practice in modern armies, where medals are awarded to individuals (soldiers and civilians) who through their intelligence work and perseverance succeed in averting fatal injuries like coup d’états, disasters, serious conflicts, etc, to the nation.

GAF may have to engage the Executive and Legislature branches of Government, to pass laws for the award of medals to military personnel for excellence during military operations. The general ones awarded to all military personnel for their participation in peacekeeping operations, internal operations, commemorative or other national should continue. The GAF committee should be tasked to produce instructions, procedures, regulations, financial payments, privileges, etc, that award winners should enjoy. The committee should for instance, prescribe critical issues like what constitutes “gallantry”, “heroism”, “bravery”, “MiD”, etc.

The GAF committee may also consider prescribing some benefits for award winners. Other armies provide medal award winners with the payment of stipends, invitations to presidential ceremonies, recruitment/enlistment vacancies to dependents interested in joining the military, full military burial honours, etc.

GAF could decide to award medals to deserving personnel or their representatives on 30 June every year, which is indeed the National Honours Day. In this way, medal award presentation ceremonies will receive maximum national recognition and publicity.

It is not for nothing that Ghana Military Awards (GMA) cadets are made to swear an oath of allegiance at the start and successful completion of their military training. Such practice underscores the enormity of the tasks as well as the sacrifice, duty and service expected of military personnel. Indeed, all Soldiers swear an oath of allegiance and oath of reaffirmation when one attains the rank of Warrant Officer.

No one can underestimate the importance of the military institution in any nation, since it is considered one of the elements of national power in every country. Indeed, nations use the military institution to attain lofty strategic objectives of securing their territorial integrity, combating terrorism, countering insurgencies and supporting other security institutions to secure national peace, among others.

In all these there is the application of lethal power, which risks the lives of soldiers. It is simply fair that GAF formulates policies to award individual soldiers, who in spite of such huge personal risks, actualise exceptional gallantry, bravery, excellence, etc, in honouring their oaths during military operations. The highly motivating impact of awarding appropriate medals to individuals for exhibiting excellence in battle should never be undervalued.

Brief Profile of Author

39 years of service in GAF. Commanding Officer (CO) of 66 Artillery Regiment, and two peacekeeping operation battalions in MONUC and UNAMSIL. Military Advisor (MILAD) at the Ghana Permanent Mission to the UN. Director of Studies at GAFCSC. MSc from US Command and Staff College, Ft Leavenworth, MSc Strategic Studies from University of Ibadan. Author of many articles and a book.