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Was Air Force Chaplain Really Awarded Prestigious Bronze Star for PowerPoint About Proper Disposal, Handling of Islamic Texts?


"A medal given for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with operations against an armed enemy."

A photo from a Koran-burning protest (Photo Credit: FILE)

This story has been updated.

The Dayton Daily News reports that Air Force Lt. Col. Jon Trainer, 51, has been awarded a Bronze Star Medal, in part, for his creation of a PowerPoint presentation that informs the military about how to properly treat Islamic religious materials and for his role in a suicide prevention training program.

Considering that the Bronze Star is the military's fifth most prestigious award -- and bearing in mind the Islamic-centered work that purportedly played a role in his accolade -- it's certainly a story worth telling.

However, there's also a bit of controversy surrounding the real reason Trainer was given the award, as West posted a Facebook message last night claiming that the notion that the PowerPoint was the main reason for it is inaccurate.

The PowerPoint portion of the story is, of course, capturing headlines. And here's why: After deadly riots broke out in Afghanistan last year following revelations that Korans were accidentally burned, the chaplain allegedly came up with a solution. The Daily News has more:

After the accidental burning last year of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan sparked deadly rioting, an Air National Guard chaplain from Springfield stepped in and potentially saved countless American lives.

For his effort, Lt. Col. Jon Trainer received the prestigious Bronze Star — a medal given for heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with operations against an armed enemy.

And he did it with a PowerPoint presentation.

Within 48 hours of the riots that left more than 30 people dead, including two U.S. troops and two additional military advisers, Trainer created a PowerPoint presentation addressing how Islamic material should be handled and disposed of. In addition to laying out these elements, the Daily News reports that the chaplain, a nondenominational Christian pastor, also identified what constitutes important Islamic material.

Credit: AP File Photo

"When a Muslim writes down even a few verses from the Quran on a piece of paper," he told the outlet, noting that this piece of paper also has protected status in the eyes of Muslims.

For Trainer, it was an opportunity to show that the U.S. is receptive to Afghan concerns, while also willing to acknowledge cultural differences. For his efforts, he has been given high honors.

The Bronze Star award is not typically given to a chaplain. Upon exploring the criteria for receiving the honor, it's easy to see why. About.com explains the award:

Any person whom while serving in any way in or with the United States military after 6 December 1941, that distinguished himself or herself apart from his or her comrades by brave or praiseworthy achievement or service, that did not include participation in aerial flight. The act justifying award of the medal must be performed while fighting an enemy of the United States, or while involved in conflict with an opposing/foreign force. It can also be awarded for heroism while serving with friendly forces engaged in combat against an opposing military in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Heroism carried out under acts as described, which are of a lesser degree than those awarded of the Silver Star, will justify the award of the Bronze Star Medal.

While of a lesser degree than the award of the Legion of Merit, the act justifying the awarding of the Bronze Star Medal must have been praiseworthy and accomplished with merit. It can be awarded for a single act of value or meritorious service.

According to the original article, Trainer was also awarded the Bronze Star for overseeing a suicide training program -- one that more than 36,000 deployed Army personnel went through (the "Ask, Care, Escort" program). The outlet does seem to claim that the PowerPoint wasn't the only reason for the accolade, although the Islamic angle is heavily emphasized in the piece. In addition to this suicide program, the article also read:

In addition, he performed all the duties expected of a chaplain, leading worship services at a cramped base in Kabul and conducting marriage counseling — often with the loved one’s spouse connected via Skype.

On Tuesday night, West posted a letter from someone he once served with who allegedly knows Trainer well. In the note, his fellow serviceman seeks to clarify the story, taking particular aim at the version that was posted by National Review.

Gunslinger 5,

The National Review Online is running an article about CH (LTC) Jon Trainer implying that he received the Bronze Star for creating a PowerPoint presentation. This is false! I served with Jon Trainer in Kabul, Afghanistan and he is one of the finest men and chaplains I have ever worked with in almost 22 years. He received the Bronze Star for his cumulative meritorious service during his overall deployment to the combat zone. He did primarily produce the slide presentation per General Allen's direction to do so. For the NRO to demean his months of faithful service and paint it like this is horrible. The author, Pat Brennan, has been notified that he is conveying a misinterpretation and told Jon "thanks for your service," but this article speaks to a cause.... No apology, he's content to run with a lie to pursue his agenda. Jonah Goldberg was tweeting the same fallacy today. A woman named Debbie Schlussel wrote a horrible trash piece propagating the same lie. No one called Jon to check the facts! Is this what conservative journalism amounts to? Ironically, Jon is very conservative and a fan of NRO and the blog that now is propagating a false and slanderous depiction of him.

I write for two reasons: 1) if you know any of these folks from your time in DC, I ask you as a personal favor to ask them to retract the article. They are demeaning a true Patriot who has every right to be proud of his service to our country! 2) As a charge that now that you are more and more a voice in the media, stick to the truth. No agenda that needs lies and misinterpretations to advance is worthy. Good journalism must be true journalism. I have no reason to doubt you at all, but I bet Brennan, Schlussel and Goldberg never got into their line of work with the desire to belittle the honorable service of a veteran for their own gain. The ability to do this to someone comes along slowly cloaked in rationalization and I never want you to stoop to this. You have so much more to offer!

Thanks for reading this! I will personally appreciate any help you can offer, even if it is your prayers for a good officer and a brother in Christ!

Be Bold!

God bless,

Gunslinger Chaplain

In sharing the letter, West wrote that, "No one should defame our warriors for an agenda." By his friend's account, it was Trainer's overall work while deployed that gained him the award, not merely his production of the PowerPoint presentation.

UPDATE: National Review wrote the following clarification today:

An item caught our eye the other day in the Dayton Daily News about Lt. Col. Jon Trainer, an Air Force chaplain, receiving the bronze star. [...]

The piece went on to describe how Trainer’s PowerPoint on proper handling of the Koran led to him receiving the Bronze Star. Patrick Brennan wrote a post  linking to the Dayton story with a headline, “Air Force Chaplain Awarded Bronze Star for PowerPoint Teaching Proper Sensitivity for the Koran,” that spread around the web (Pat also mentioned Trainer’s work training personnel in a suicide prevention program). Lt. Col.  Jon Trainer, a NRO reader, has been in touch and convinced me that this isn’t quite fair. He has explained that the Bronze Star was an end of tour award presented to him for meritorious service over the span of his deployment to Afghanistan, which obviously involved more than that PowerPoint. (This story gives a broader sense of his service during the tour.) So there wasn’t anything inaccurate in the Dayton story or Pat’s post, but they created a misimpression about the centrality of the PowerPoint to Trainer’s Bronze Star. I wanted to provide this fuller context and take the opportunity to salute Trainer for his service to our country.


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