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Why this US Air Force general wears only 3 ribbons on his ceremonial uniform

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If you know anything about generals, you know that they usually wear a lot of ribbons on their ceremonial uniforms. These bands of colorful fabric, sometimes called breast candy by military personnel, represent the accomplishments of their careers. So when someone walks into a room with a chest that appears to be covered in paint samples from a hardware store, it sends a message that they’ve been there and done it.

But sometimes the awards you choose to present say a lot more than how many you’ve won.

This was what struck the airmen when Air Force General Mike Minihan, the newest commander of Air Mobility Command, removed almost all of his 32 ribbons from his uniform for his most recent official service photo. Of those 32 ribbons, Minihan left only three on his chest, all based on units rather than individual rewards. One of Minihans ‘public affairs officials said the generals’ intention was to signal his commitment to team accomplishments rather than individual glory.

General Minihans’ decision to wear these three ribbons complies with AFI Directive 36-2903 to wear all or part [ribbons], and those he has selected align with his team-focused leadership approach, Lindsey Wilkinson, deputy director of public affairs for Air Mobility Command, told Task & Purpose.

The spokeswoman said Minihan began wearing fewer ribbons on his service uniform during his stint as deputy commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command from 2019 to 2021.

General Minihan has chosen to reduce the number of decorations he wears on his service dress at certain events, including retirements and promotions that honor others, Wilkinson said. He believes the event should not be about him or his accomplishments, but about the member he is there to honor or recognize.

There's a good reason why this Air Force general wears only 3 ribbons on his ceremonial uniform
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan, right, incoming Air Mobility Command commander, receives his new rank during his promotion ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Oct. 5, 2021. Minihan has been promoted to the rank of general. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Olivera)

Ribbons left on Minihans’ uniform include the Joint Meritorious Unit Award with three oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Unit Award with four oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with V for bravery and two leaf clusters money, Wilkinson said. A cluster of oak leaves represents each instance where the individual received the award, a cluster of silver leaves represents five distinct clusters of oak leaves; and a V designates personal worth in combat, according to the air force.

Although his command profile does not list each of his 32 ribbons, it does indicate that Minihan received three legions of merit, six air medals, seven air achievement medals, the Republic of Korea Cheonsu Medal, awarded by the President of South Korea for outstanding meritorious service in the interest of national security, and the Order of St. Maurice, which is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated a significant contribution to the infantry, according to National Infantry Association.

Minihans’ decision may seem like little more than a one-off wardrobe choice for a four-star general, but it immediately struck a chord on social media, especially in circles frequented by current and former military personnel. .

Mini is by far one of the most incredible officers in this Air Force, said a commentator reacting to a post about Minihans ribbons count on Reddit. The comment received 221 points, meaning hundreds of viewers shared the commentators’ opinion.

This man takes 100% care of his airmen, the commentator continued. I’m so glad he has this job. He’s going to get him out of the park.

Hes the epitome of a hard load [tactical airlifter, said another. Undoubtedly one of the best leaders I ever got to work for. This is such a win for AMC.

Theres a good reason why this Air Force general only wears 3 ribbons on his dress uniform
Lt. Gen. Michael Minihan, center, pilots a C-130J Super Hercules over Central Arkansas, Sept. 17, 2021. A command pilot with more than 3,400 flight hours, Minihan completed his senior officer course on the C-130J during a recent visit to LRAFB. Minihan was promoted to the rank of General prior to assuming command of Air Mobility Command on Oct. 5, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jayden Ford)

One airman who worked in aircraft maintenance at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas and as a flight engineer at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas when Minihan was there, told Task & Purpose that Minihan was always approachable, you never felt like you had to be on edge around him.

The four-star general always truly made you feel as if you were the only person that mattered at that moment when the two of you spoke, said the airman, who stayed anonymous because they were not authorized to speak with the press.

You could see the weight of being a commander lift when he strapped in and took control of the aircraft and he always wanted to know about young crew members he hadnt flown with before, the airman said.

He would ask where you were from, how long youve been flying, if you had kids, a wife, etc, the airman said, referring to Minihans service as a pilot of C-130 Hercules, KC-10 Extender and C-32 transport aircraft.

Other commenters described Minihan as a stand up guy, a level-headed dude, and a pretty awesome commander. Its rare praise on the Air Force subreddit, where service leadership is routinely criticized. One airman who said they had a mental health breakdown during a large-scale training exercise remembered Minihan handing off responsibility for the exercise to a lower-ranking commander so he could check in on the airman.

Report got back up to him that one of his airmen was in distress and he dropped the whole [operational readiness exercise] on the [operations group commander] and sprinted where I was, to make sure I was okay, the aviator posted on Reddit. I would follow Mini anywhere. I envy all AMC and wish I could go back to work for him.

There's a good reason why this Air Force general wears only 3 ribbons on his ceremonial uniform
Lt. Gen. Michael Minihan, center, speaks with a group of Airmen before piloting a C-130J Super Hercules flight at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, September 17, 2021 (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jayden Ford )

If all of this praise seems excessive, remember that the Air Force, like many of its sister services, is grappling with a mental health and suicide crisis that many Airmen attribute to Wrong direction. Minihans’ efforts to bolster his airmen have had an impact, and for someone as high in the military food chain as a four-star general, dropping their individual ribbons further underscores that commitment.

Air Mobility Command will need that kind of leadership in the future. The command provides air transport, air supplies and aero-medical evacuation for the rest of the military to fight around the world. Earlier this year, the command made headlines for its key role in transporting 124,000 people out of Afghanistan during the closing days of the US 20-Year War. As the U.S. military prepares to fight vast distances in a possible future conflict with China, the command also faces a complete mess of an acquisition process for its next in-flight refueling tanker, which the military desperately needs because the current fleet is collapsing.

No matter how he plans to tackle these challenges, Minihan seems to want to do it in a special way: with his Airmen. As Wilkinson said, the General believes any success he has had is a reflection of the Airmen and Joint Service members he has had the privilege to lead and serve alongside his 32 years of service.

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