For the first time in more than 15 years, and only the second time in the award's 60-year history, the Association of the United States Army's (AUSA) top award is recognizing a group of people -- not an individual.
In 2004, the Marshall Award went to "the American Soldier." The award itself and photos of the presentation hang in the Army hallways in the Pentagon. This year? It's the Army family.
"It's their award, it's for them -- all of us who have been part of the community, past and present," said Patti Barron, director of Family Readiness at AUSA. "From the deployments and scary moments to all the good times, this award acknowledges those sacrifices, the tenacity and resilience of families and understands that doesn't come lightly. We want to make sure families know it's their award and so rightly deserved."
In normal years, the awards ceremony is a formal affair attended by several hundred people in Washington, D.C., during AUSA's annual meeting. This year, things are a little different, with the conference held virtually, and the award presentation scheduled during the day.
Barron encourages all family members to watch the presentation and consider the award theirs. Details on the ceremony were not yet finalized, but Barron did say the Army Band has been working on a musical tribute to service families for the event.
Exactly who will accept the award on behalf of Army families has not been determined, she added. But all Army family members -- parents, spouses, children of past and present service members -- can watch the award ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 12 p.m. ET at AUSANow. You can also check the AUSA Family Readiness Facebook page.
The Marshall Medal recipients are decided by a national awards committee made up of AUSA members and former senior service leaders, with the decision process beginning each January.
Discussion around giving the award to the Army family began prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Barron said. But after the initial changes the pandemic brought to the military, the way families handled the additional burdens of remote learning, longer deployments and canceled moves helped solidify the choice, she said.
"I really wanted to acknowledge that all Army families were recipients of this award," Barron said. "They are the force behind the force, and that was before the pandemic hit.
"The decision was already made to award the Army Family, and it felt meant to be," she said.
To watch the Marshall Medal award ceremony on AUSA Now, you can register here. There are additional family forums throughout the week that are also available for viewing online, with topics on spouse employment, military moves and a senior leaders forum where top Army officials take and answer viewer questions.
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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.