Texas Congressman Won't Stop Wearing Combat Infantryman Badge that Was Revoked

Rep. Troy Nehls during a House Judiciary Committee markup hearing
Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, during the House Judiciary Committee markup hearing to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress, Thursday, May 16, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

More than a month after a news report revealed that the Combat Infantryman Badge Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, wears on his lapel was revoked since he was never eligible for the award to begin with, the congressman refuses to take the pin off.

Nehls' stubbornness has garnered growing criticism from veterans and others in the community of stolen valor researchers, who say the issue is simple: The rules for the CIB are clear, and Nehls did not qualify.

"The veteran community is starting to get to the point now where there's no room for forgiveness at this point because now they see, ‘Hey, this wasn't an error. He's doubling down now,’" said Anthony Anderson, an Army veteran who runs Guardian of Valor and was instrumental in uncovering Nehls' revoked award. "He knows he didn't earn this award."

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CBS News and Anderson's Guardian of Valor first revealed in May that the Army revoked Nehls' CIB in March 2023 because at the time he was awarded it in 2008 he served as a civil affairs officer, not an infantryman or Special Forces soldier.

The Combat Infantryman Badge originated during World War II, both as a means of establishing the infantry as a prestigious role in the Army to help with recruitment and to reward soldiers who saw combat. Enlisted recipients of the badge at the time were paid $10 extra per month. The law establishing that bonus was rescinded in 1948.

    "He gets in the infantry, we build his ego, his pride in his branch," Maj. Gen. Miller White, who oversaw Army personnel policy at the time, said to lawmakers during a 1944 hearing on the badge.

    The establishment of the badge also came with the Expert Infantryman Badge, an accolade for showing a high level of proficiency in combat tests such as marksmanship, grenade handling and physical fitness. In effect, infantrymen who did not see combat still had an opportunity to identify themselves and distinguish themselves from the non-combat roles in the Army.

    To qualify for the CIB, a soldier must be an infantryman or Green Beret, be serving in those roles at the time of the award, and engage an enemy in direct ground combat.

    In 2005, the Army established the Combat Action Badge, or CAB -- effectively the same award but for soldiers in all other roles. The award was spurred after tank and cavalry units played a significant role in the invasion of Iraq, but were not awarded recognition as their infantry counterparts were. It was also retroactively awarded to soldiers who qualified for it in any action after 9/11.

    Nehls was awarded a CAB in 2006 for a 2004 deployment to Iraq that no one is calling into question.

    While Nehls first enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard in 1988 as an infantryman, his military occupational speciality in 2008 was civil affairs, according to documents published by Guardian of Valor.

    CBS and Guardian of Valor also found that Nehls' military record shows only one Bronze Star while Nehls has claimed he was awarded two. After their reporting, Nehls posted certificates for both Bronze Stars on social media.

    His refusal to stop wearing the CIB is what has attracted the most criticism a month later.

    "It was revoked," Frederick Bourjaily, national commander of the Combat Infantrymen's Association, a nonprofit group that supports CIB veterans, told Military.com in a phone interview. "He should take it off."

    While Nehls has the right to appeal the revocation, Bourjaily added, he should not wear the pin while that process is playing out.

    "If the Army told me I couldn't wear mine, I'd take it off," Bourjaily said.

    Nehls' office did not respond to Military.com's request for comment for this story.

    But the congressman has defended himself on social media and in comments to other news outlets, casting himself as a victim who is being targeted for his conservatism and support for former President Donald Trump.

    "I disagree with the Awards and Decorations Branch revocation of my CIB, which was awarded by the 101st Airborne Division," Nehls wrote in a letter to the Army he posted on social media. "I further believe this is a concerted effort to discredit my military service and continued service to the American people as a member of Congress."

    Nehls has also questioned whether any other CIBs have ever been revoked, rhetorically asking news outlet NOTUS whether it is "just Troy Nehls, Mr. MAGA guy?"

    It's unclear how common administrative errors are, but it isn't unheard of for soldiers to be improperly awarded accolades due to poorly trained personnel staff, misunderstandings or fraudulent documentation. But soldiers should also know whether they receive an award they clearly were not qualified for, given how clear service regulations are on most accolades.

    "Any soldier that has served a week in the military knows the requirements for the CIB," Anderson said. "Everybody knows the CIB is an award for infantrymen and Special Forces soldiers only. Period."

    Those who have made it their life's mission to uncover stolen valor say the Nehls case is egregious.

    "We are fed up with politicians doing this and still get accolades, re-elected and having no consequences," Mary Schantag, chair of the POW Network and a historian who verifies accusations of stolen valor, said in an email to Military.com. "He is not the first pol and certainly will not be the last to make headlines over [stolen valor]. It never ends."

    Criticism of Nehls is also coming from other Republicans. Several of his GOP House colleagues who are veterans have accused him of stolen valor, including former Trump administration interior secretary and current Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who told NOTUS that "if you didn't earn it, you shouldn't wear it."

    Anderson was admanent his work on Nehls is not political.

    "I've got friends that I visit every Memorial Day that have earned this award, and it's put them in the ground," Anderson said. "That's why this is such a big issue. We have to protect these awards because if we just let anybody and everybody wear them just because they claim them, it waters them down, and it doesn't make them as prestigious, and it just hurts the award system altogether."

    Related: Stolen Valor Researchers Sound Alarm on House Proposal to Curtail Access to Military Records

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