Shocker; DoD’s valor website incomplete

| November 14, 2012 | 10 Comments

After saying for years that a website with a complete list of valor awards is impractical, the Department of Defense is proving it. Our buddy, Doug Sterner sends us a link to an article which charges that more than 60 awards of Silver Star medals are missing.

Doug tells us in an email;

The 62 missing SS recipients include FIFTEEN men whose awards are posthumous, which concerns me even more than the others for if anything, we need to properly remember those who died heroically. Of the 15 missing from the DoD website (valor.defense.mil), four of them WERE listed on the other database (the one that compromised the MOH/DSC SSNs) [Brostrom, Lindskog, Weeks, Worrell]. At least TWO of these have buildings named for them at Fort Benning , at least two are buried at Arlington with headstones denoting their Silver Star, one is a West Point Graduate, and at least one has a U.S. Post Office Named for him.

NOTE: THESE all deal with ARMY Silver Stars. There are a few missing from the other services, including 1 DSC not listed and 1 Navy Cross not listed, but the Army Silver Stars represent the worst of it.

Who could have guessed that a team of bureaucrats would make mistakes? It seems to me that the government could have done better by buying the database that Doug has been working on for over a decade and checking his work rather than starting over. But you’d think the quality of their work would be marginally better since they have better access to the information to be inputted. But no one has ever accused the government of taking advantage of their strengths.

Category: Stolen Valor Act

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  1. Twist says:

    Does the valor.defense.mil show those that earned the DSC? For some reason the website is blocked to me and I also can’t go to the link. I want to make sure that the Soldier in my old Company that earned it is listed.

  2. Hondo says:

    I can’t access it either, Twist. I keep getting a “server not found” error.

    This sort of stuff is precisely why I keep saying the magnitude of this task – a centralized, accurate, and complete database of even valor awards, much less all military decorations – is grossly underestimated. The official data is not in great shape to begin with and has huge holes and omissions, particularly in the Army.

    Award authority for SS and below has been hugely decentralized in every conflict since and including World War II. Many are not well documented. If you want legal-level accuracy, you need 4-9s or better accuracy – and probably better. That means you can’t miss very many.

    And if you think this is fun so far, just wait until we get to BSM w/V, ARCOM w/V, and (for USN/USMC), NAM w/V. Gonna really have fun with those.

    The task is certainly worth doing – but it’s just not going to be the “quick and easy” task everyone seems to think.

    The design will be easy. But getting good (4 or 5 9s) data verified and loaded won’t be. A decade of effort at a couple of M$ a year sounds about right off the top of my head.

    And it should be obvious why. The verification of each award will have to be done against official sources vice documentation provided by individuals to “correct errors”. Below the SS, that’s going to take a substantial amount of time.

  3. Just an Old Dog says:

    When I look up awards online I do it with the attitude that its more of to CONFIRM an award than to use as proof that it wasn’t awarded. There was a post under the Dallas Whatshisname where a gentleman referred to a member of the NG that was awarded the SS in Vietnam. Likewise there was a post on the fat hose-beast from Texas where a VFW claimed a DFC. Neither of them was on the databases online. Rather than accuse them of being ass-hats I simply let them know that they werent on the lists and it should be corrected.

  4. Hondo says:

    Just an Old Dog: the intended use doesn’t make much difference, actually. Both high accuracy and high completeness are needed.

    Confirmation of a claim depends on the accuracy of the data in the system – can you really trust a YES answer? In contrast, refutation of false claims depends on the data’s completeness – that is, if it’s not there, what are the chances that’s because the data is incomplete? Both are important if this type of system is to be useful.

    A list that is 100% accurate but only contains 25% of the total data is not too useful – because a negative answer there tells you very little. Similarly, a system that contains 100% of the data with a 25% error rate (e.g., misspelled names, bogus awards, wrong SSNs or service numbers – even if the SSNs are not to be made public) is also pretty well useless. In the latter case, if the answer comes back yes, you can’t really believe it – since 1 in 4 “confirmations” will be wrong.

    In short: the data does need to be as close to 100% accurate as is reasonably possible. But unless it’s also pretty close to complete, the system won’t be very useful. Until it’s also relatively complete, a false claimant can always claim they’re in the group that isn’t there because their records “haven’t yet been entered” – and there will be no good way to prove otherwise.

    Unfortunately, getting both accuracy and completeness requires a lot of work when you’re talking literally hundreds of thousands of awards for valor from World War II on.

  5. Doug Sterner says:

    It is important to strive for both accuracy and completion, which is what we are striving to do at the Hall of Valor (and which is why we are limiting our efforts to awards above the BSM). By the end of this year we’ll have posted approximately 160,000 of the 200,000 awards above the BSM in history…(EXCLUDING 150,000 of the WWII DFCs which comprise the estimated total of 350,000 awards. At present, our level of completion on various areas include:
    100 % of all MOHs and Service Crosses
    100% of all Silver Stars to Coast Guardsmen in History
    100% of all POWs from 1954 to present, and 95% of all Korean WAr POWs.
    99% of all Silver Stars to U.S. Marines in History and 100% of the Silver Stars for WWII, Korea & GWOT
    97% of all Silver Stars to members of the U.S. Navy in History
    99% of all USMC General Officers (deceased, living, active) can be found in the DB, as are 100% of all USMC ACEs
    97% of all LOMs, and 90% of all DFCs to members of the USMC are now listed.

    GWOT Silver Stars: 100% of USMC and USAF Silver Stars, 100% of all REPORTED Silver Stars to USN (there are approxmiately 85 classified and un-reported Navy SS awards), and 99% of all U.S. Army awards of the Silver Star.

    This is just for example…still a long ways to go but we are doing it. If WE can, with our limited access and resources, so can DOD.

  6. Hondo says:

    Sounds like you’ve made good progress on the US Army SS issue, Dave. Last time I heard those were only about 75% complete for WW II/Korea/Vietnam. Now you look to be way above that. Or am I reading the above wrong?

  7. Doug Sterner says:

    Hondo…we are making GREAT progress, even with Army Awards. It is telling however how complete USMC awards are…not because the Marine Corps is so small, but because they truly have a sense of history and remembering their heroes.

    IF anyone out there wants to be a part of this process, feel free to contact me. Right now I have some 2,500 USMC Silver Star citations needing to be typed, and I’m happy to share the work load.
    doug@homeofheroes.com

  8. Hondo says:

    Doug: wouldn’t it be much quicker to just scan the citations, redact any protected info, and link to the images of the scanned citations?

  9. Doug Sterner says:

    Hondo, some of these documents are in VERY rough shape. Typing the citations isn’t that big a job…I’ve typed some 80,000 myself (full citations). It also cuts down on the kinds of errors you get with OCR, as well as typos on names (when I enter I type the names TWO DIFFERENT TIMES, then have a macro that looks for variances)…the single most important information is the Name…if that is spelled wrong, everything else becomes meaningless. Further, digital data is much easier to parse out…I can, for instance, almost immediately filter some of the most finely-tuned queries for additional data.

  10. Nik says:

    Doug’s right. In one of my roles at work, I work with imaging systems. We just plain gave up on OCR and have our workers type the information in. And that’s with documents that are in relatively good shape. The agency I work for just plain can’t afford the robust, enterprise-scale OCR engines.

    Eventually I’ll get around to writing our own imaging software so we can get away from paying for gold-support that’s largely useless, updates, having to maintain servers that are 2-3 OS versions behind, etc.

    But yah. Scanning it works well, as long as you don’t care to do anything more complicated than warehouse the images. To become meaningful, it’s got to be attached to external data.

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