Is this stolen valor?

The Mormon-run Deseret News recently ran an article from a self-proclaimed former Black Panther, now war hero. An army major has publicly called on the newspaper to verify the information or retract the article, saying it’s suspicious. One specific charge is that one of the metals, a Combat Action Badge, is worn in the wrong location.

In response, it appears that paper pulled the picture, but has not changed any of the details in the story.

The story is reprinted here, on a church website, and includes the picture in question.

Is this clearly wrong or simply suspicious?

First, the article is not “from” a self-proclaimed former Black Panther, now war hero; it is about him. Johnson did not write the article.

Second, nowhere in the full Deseret News article is John Johnson referred to as a “war hero,” either by the author of the article, or by Johnson himself. All it tells us about his military experience is that he enlisted in 1973, ended up in jail on drug charges, and then was reinstated after his release. One of the pictures accompanying the article also claims to be a picture of Johnson serving in Iraq.

Of course, the presence of a Combat Action Badge, which is awarded to soldiers “personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement,” might lead some people to use the term “war hero,” and that’s completely fine, but that is not how he is described in the article.

According to the army, over 47,000 Combat Action Badges were awarded between December 2001 and the end of 2013 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and over 68,000 were awarded from March 2003 through August 2010 in Operation Iraqi Freedom. If the picture in the article is a real picture of Johnson serving in Iraq, i would not be especially surprised to learn that he had qualified for the CAB.

I have no idea if the guy’s Combat Action Badge is being worn correctly; someone with military experience will have to answer that question. I tried to look it up, but apparently it’s more complicated than just working out a specific location for each decoration. Where different decorations are positioned depends, to a considerable extent, upon how many you have, because there is an order or precedence for medals and other decorations.

According to the army’s own regulations, Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1 Guide to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia (PDF), the Combat Action Ribbon is last (#31) in the order of precedence in categories of medals (p. 226), but the Combat Action Badge is in Group 1 in the order of precedence of combat and special skill badges and tabs (p. 245).

And even if the badge is in the wrong place, it’s also possible that it’s in the wrong place due to a simple mistake of placement. Wouldn’t be the first time that a person, even a soldier, made a simple mistake.

Basically, i don’t think that we have anywhere near enough information, based on one single article, to answer your question. And, to be honest, i don’t know why you care so much. I’m just glad that “stolen valor” is now just a stupid phrase of righteous indignation, and no longer a law infringing on constitutional rights.

On a 10 point scale, that picture is sitting at about a 9.2. I’m calling bullshit. This isn’t a simple case of getting something backwards or wearing something that is “technically wrong” but easy to screw up. There are a million ways to screw up a Class A uniform when applying awards and decorations.
However, the CAB isn’t one that I have ever seen in the wrong place. Ever. Maybe it is mistakenly worn with another Group 1 medal, or it is mistakenly worn with Group 4 medals above the ribbons (old rules) or some other simple mistake. Recently I saw someone from the USAMU in an article and his tabs were worn in the wrong place. Those are all believable mistakes. But wearing a CAB below the ribbons is not a mistake that anyone is going to make.

Would stick out from across a crowded room.

As far as his picture serving in Iraq, it is also suspect. If he joined the Army in 1973, he would have been well past retirement during the early years of Iraq. He is wearing three color desert camo and not the 6 color which means that was not Desert Storm, it was the GWOT. That means he would have had roughly 30 years of service. Even if you allow for some crazy-long service in the Reserve or something, a Soldier with that much time in would not be holding a Squad Automatic Weapon. The SAW is for much younger, lower ranking soldiers.
Also, didnt one of the articles say he was a Major? When did he get his commission if he enlisted in 1973? Maybe I missed it, I just skimmed through it. None of the part about getting sentenced for 15 years and then just magically released back to the Army makes much sense either.

ETA: Of course… anything is possible through Jesus.

I can’t see clearly enough to make anything more than a guess about the order of his ribbons or if there is anything huge like a silver star just randomly placed in the middle there. However, at the very bottom of the picture, there appears to be the very top of an expert marksmanship badge. There is definitely something there, because it is not centered. The button would have been centered, so it is some kind of badge or award. This guy is 100% full of shit. There just isn’t any room for even the smallest, unreasonable doubt. Fake.

I gotta point out that what this largely tells us is that the photograph is likely fake - as in, it’s not a photograph of a real solider wearing his real uniform. What’s its provenance? Could it be a stock photograph pulled up by a lazy editor to illustrate an article whose provenance is different?

The story may be bullshit. But, ironically, my scepticism of journalistic standards is such that I don’t assume that, if the photograph is bullshit, the story is too.

(Bear: I don’t think any of the article said he was a major, or that he ever had a commission. It was a (retired) major who first drew attention to the discrepancies in the uniform. I don’t know enough about US uniforms to say whether the uniform in the photograph implies a commission.)

Come to think of it, no. That uniform is absolutely not an officer’s uniform. The shoulders and collar are for enlisted. I was too focused on the CAB to think straight.

What’s the point of saying “Mormon-run” Deseret News? (I ask already knowing the answer because of who the OP is.)

Maybe to remind us that every news organization has an agenda, and to alert us as to the agenda that we should be vigilant for in this particular case. It is done by the mainstream media all the time: NBC quotes a “state-run newspaper” and takes the trouble to add that it has not been independently verified, which only a US government agency has the authority and unquestioned credibility to “verify”. If one is going to call into question what might be a biased report, there is nothing wrong with pointing out which way the bias is likely to be directed, and by whom, and where one can look for other examples of similar bias.

Are Mormons well-known for a “former Black Panther” bias?

I’m not taking a position on anything in this thread except to answer the question that was referenced in my reply, which addresses the possible motivation for the OP qualifying the source of the material referenced. Which he thought added context and clarity.

Maybe more of a bias towards stories that are “former Black Panther now a Mormon.” Which is exactly what the article represents; that the individual was converted by Mormon missionaries going door-to-door.

I obviously defer to Bear_Nenno on the placement of the decorations. If he says they look suspicious, i’ve got no trouble believing it.

This is something i forgot to mention in my own post. It did strike me as strange, while i was reading the article, that someone who was born in 1956 would still be an on-the-ground grunt in the military during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I remember no such reference.

Well, i know nothing about the OP’s take on the LDS, but given that the article’s main focus is on the redemptive power of God, as revealed to Johnson by a pair of LDS Elders using the Book of Mormon, i don’t see much harm in the reference. Most of the newspaper articles we read do not have an explicitly salvationist editorial message, and i don’t think there’s any harm in people understanding that the newspaper is run by Mormons and controlled by an LDS-owned company.

Am I missing somehting here? What is the stolen valor part? Even if he is not wearing the correct bagdes/awards, and imbelishing on his service, who is he defrauding?

In 2005, the Stolen Valor Act provided criminal penalties for those who passed themselves off as having received military decorations. This was struck down by the courts, basically on First Amendment grounds. Congress passed a different law last year that specifically penalizes fraud that is carried out using military decorations as part of the scheme.

It doesn’t really sound like the person in the article is carrying out that type of fraud; but the term “stolen valor” can be taken as a general description of using non-existent military service for some type of personal benefit or aggrandizement.

To be clear, if this is stolen valor, he is not doing anything that calls for criminal penalties… but he is doing something that calls for public shaming.

On the age thing, though, it seems to me that I’ve heard a lot of stories of what might be called “nontraditional soldiers”-- A father and son signing up for service on the same day, for instance. Even if he’s old enough to retire, is retirement mandatory, or could a soldier opt to remain in anyway?

AFAIK, the US military still has what it calls “tenure limits”. There’s a maximum time in service that someone can have, increasing with an increase in rank. One may, of course, apply for an exception to that policy.

He’s not holding a Squad Automatic Weapon in the photograph. He’s holding an M16/M4 variant with a possibly grenade launcher attached.

Looks like a SAW to me. The magazine is mounted sideways, which is where the magazine goes if you aren’t using the belt feed drum (though we only used the magazine in a SAW if you were out of drum ammo because that thing will rip through 20 rounds nearly instantly). Under the barrel appears to be the standard bipod legs. No way to mount a magazine on the side of an M16 or M4.