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DOD Reverses Gender-Neutral Language for Military Award Citations

September 26, 2023

The Pentagon quietly implemented, then reversed, new gender-neutral language for military award citations. The new language described both male and female servicemembers with the pronoun “themself.” However, that language lasted barely a month before the DOD scrubbed it amid conservative criticism.

The Pentagon inserted gender-neutral language into the Manual of Military Decorations and Awards on August 7, according to The Daily Signal, which discovered the change. The change occurred with so little fanfare that even The Signal did not discover it for several weeks.

The manual included draft language for the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award. The Signal recorded the use of “themselves” in draft language to begin the award citation for the Defense Superior Service Medal:

“Superior Meritorious Service (e.g., PCS and Retirement awards): (Rank) First M. Last, Jr., United States (Military Service), distinguished themself by superior meritorious service in a position of significant responsibility as (position and duty assignment), from (month year) to (month year)” (emphasis added).

The August 7 version of the Manual is no longer available online, but an archived version records 11 uses of “themself.”

“Aside from the fact that the use of the pronoun ‘themself’ is grammatically incorrect and just plain stupid sounding,” urged Heritage Foundation experts Cully Stimson and Dakota Wood, “it is insulting to every service man and service women [sic] in the armed forces.” The word “them” is plural, while “self” refers to only one person.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) called the move “substituting grammatical error for honor.”

“The Secretary of the Air Force stated that our military is ‘not as ready as we need to be’ to face the challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Gallagher. “Yet, amid this challenge and compounding military recruiting and budget crises, the Pentagon has once again chosen to waste time and resources on wokeness instead of warfighting.”

“The previous guidance simply referred to servicemembers as ‘himself or herself,’” U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote in a September 8 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “And, I want to stress, this language isn’t referring to unspecified personnel in the abstract or large numbers of troops — it refers to a specific, named person whose ‘preferred gender’ is presumably known.”

Cotton added that “‘themself” is not even a word.” (Notably, word processors such as Microsoft Word auto-correct “themself” to “themselves” on every occasion.) “The Department’s embrace of far-left gender ideology doesn’t merely subvert the English language in ways that would astonish George Orwell,” continued Cotton. “Worse, it exemplifies a Pentagon leadership consumed by the fads of the faculty lounge at a time when the Army can’t hit its recruiting goals, the Navy can’t keep ships out of dry dock, and the Air Force can’t find spare parts for planes.”

“I also would welcome a reply that this whole episode was just a practical joke, or a decision you immediately reversed when it came to your attention,” said Cotton.

Cotton’s letter requested Austin to provide answers to several questions by September 15. Among those questions, Cotton asked, “May servicemembers request the use of the male or female pronoun on their award citations and at promotion and retirement ceremonies? How will those requests be treated?”

Other circumstances answered that question for Cotton before his stated deadline. On September 12, The Daily Caller reported that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley will have “gender-specific pronouns” in his end-of-tour award citation. Milley is scheduled to retire at the end of the month.

By September 19, the DOD had removed nearly all of the gender-neutral language from its Decorations and Awards Manual. The most recent version of the Manual, dated September 19, has removed all but one reference to “themself” from the document, and it restored the language, “himself or herself,” in military award citations.

“This was no mistake,” Cotton said Friday. “The administration has been trying to woke-ify the military since Joe Biden took office. They got caught this time and reversed course, but the Department of Defense should never have adopted this absurd left-wing terminology in the first place.”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.