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Some Airmen Criticize Decision to Promote Train Hero from E-3 to E-5

National Guard Spc. Alek Skarlatos, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and civilian Anthony Sadler were honored during a Pentagon ceremony Sept. 17, 2015, for their heroic actions in stopping a gunman on a Paris-bound train last month.(Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Some Air Force members and veterans have turned to Facebook to vent their frustration with the service's decision to promote the heroic airman of the European train attack and have him skip a grade.

Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh this week announced that Spencer Stone, who along with his two childhood friends helped foil a terrorist attack last month on a Paris-bound train, would be promoted from airman first class (E-3) to staff sergeant (E-5).

"He has represented the Air Force very well and very proudly and, basically, he has an instinct for saying and doing the right thing, which I think is going to be a very, very good attribute in a young NCO supervisor," Welsh said.

Stone was awarded the Airman's Medal and the Purple Heart during a ceremony Friday at the Pentagon. His friends, Oregon Army National Guard Spc. Alek Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Sadler, were also recognized. Skarlators received the Soldier's Medal and Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor.

But some service members and veterans have criticized the decision to promote stone over the rank of senior airman -- on Welsh's Facebook page nonetheless.

One poster, Eric Blanton, who identified himself as an Air Force veteran, wrote, "I respectfully disagree with him being step promoted. He did his job as a member of the armed service. We all took an oath, he was just in the wrong place at the right time. I applaud his actions and would like to personally congratulate him if ever I could but stepping him up to SSgt is not the right thing to do."

Another, Joe Richards, posted, "So tell ME General, Are you going to promote every SRA serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to SSgt fighting terrorists? Not saying anything bad about Airman Stone, BUT I was a SGT who had to TEST to get my rank to SSgt. I HAD to take my NCO Leadership School before I would be considered for promotion. You've made a mockery of the entire Air Force promotion system by doing this."

Yet another, Kevin Griffin, wrote, "He deserves the praise, but what about those giving limbs and in combat situations fighting overseas? Where is their promotions? A good friend of mine, who lost an arm while pulling his team from an IED attack, instead of being promoted he was served discharge papers."

Similar comments appeared below an announcement of the promotion and photo of Stone and Welsh on the Air Force's Facebook page.

A user named Ray Goins, whose profile states he's a former Air National Guard member, wrote, "A staff sergeant should have experience in his job and in the Air Force that can't be gained on a train. Medals, letters and awards only are appropriate. The military is not a show and rank must be earned. He will not be respected equally to a Staff Sergeant that earned it."

Joshua Hall wrote, "Think about all the special forces people that do this on a daily basis and are only awarded medals and awards not ranks. This is a slap in the face to all of those hard working people."

John Flores, whose information indicates he's a senior airman at Travis Air Force Base, California, wrote, "This is a slap in the face to everyone who actually earned staff sergeant. He did a great thing! But to bump him up two ranks? This is a joke."

During a question-answer session with James Cody, chief master sergeant of the Air Force on Wednesday at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference, an airman said she was shocked when she logged into Facebook and saw comments, including from officers.

In a quip that drew laughter and applause from the 200-plus mostly enlisted members in the function hall, Cody said: "Stop it! Stop logging into it!"

Cody said the first bit of advice he was given by his predecessor, James Roy, was "stay off that stuff," he said, referring to social media.,

"I'm not looking at it. I'm not reading it," he said. "I'm not going to give it the time of day … If someone wants to personally come up to me and be educated about how we came to that decision and why, I'm happy to do so in a professional manner."

But what he will not do, Cody said, is respond to a negative narrative on social media to defend the decision.

"We don't have to defend anything -- at all," he said. "We did the right thing and know we did the right thing … There's always going to be haters out there."

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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