Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. But posts on social media falsely claimed Milley “never served in combat.” Milley has an “extensive background of combat experience,” according to the U.S. Army, including deployment to Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan.
As the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since October 2019, Gen. Mark A. Milley is the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.
Milley, who is also the principal military advisor to President Joe Biden, has served in the military for more than 42 years and has a long combat history.
Yet, posts on social media falsely claimed Milley “never served in combat and never won a war.”
“Can someone explain to me how a man who never served in combat and never won a war has THIS many medals on his uniform,” journalist Jordan Schachtel questioned in a tweet that shows Milley with numerous military decorations.
The tweet since has been deleted, but the claim continued to circulate.
Benny Johnson, a contributor to the conservative organization Turning Point USA and a frequent spreader of misinformation, shared a screenshot of Schachtel’s tweet in an Instagram post on Feb. 8, which received more than 64,600 likes.
But, as we said, the post’s claim regarding Milley’s combat experience is wrong.
An article about Milley on the U.S. Army website says he has an “extensive background of combat experience having deployed in support of numerous operational assignments including: Multinational Force and Observers Sinai in Egypt, Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.” He also deployed to Somalia and Colombia.
Milley’s biography on the Department of Defense website notes that he served three tours in Afghanistan. He has also held command positions in eight divisions and Special Forces, including as deputy commanding general and commanding general.
In a Department of Defense photo, Milley can be seen with a wide range of medals on his military uniform, including several medals and badges related to combat efforts.
The top badge on his left side is the Combat Infantryman Badge with a star. To be eligible to wear this medal, one has to meet certain requirements, which include being “assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat” and “[a]ctively participate in such ground combat.”
To receive the Korean Defense Service Medal — also shown on the left side of Milley’s uniform — one must have been “engaged in actual combat” during service in Korea; “be killed, wounded or injured in the line of duty”; or participated as an aircrew member flying an aircraft over certain areas in support of the operation.
On his right, Milley’s uniform includes an Army Meritorious Unit Commendation award, given for outstanding service for six consecutive months during a military operation against an armed enemy. “Although service in a combat zone is not required, the unit’s accomplishments must be directly related to the larger combat effort,” according to the American War Library.
According to the Association of the United States Army, Milley’s awards, badges and decorations include the “Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Army Distinguished Service Medal with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Defense Superior Service Medal with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Legion of Merit with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Bronze Star Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters; Meritorious Service Medal with silver oak leaf cluster; Army Commendation Medal with four bronze oak leaf clusters; Army Achievement Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster; National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with two bronze service stars; Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars; Iraq Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Korea Defense Service Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral 5; NATO Medal with bronze service star; and the Multi-national Force and Observers Medal… Combat Infantryman Badge with star; Expert Infantryman Badge; Master Parachutist Badge; Scuba Diver Badge; Ranger Tab; Special Forces Tab; Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge; Joint Meritorious Unit Award; and Meritorious Unit Commendation and the French Military Parachutist Badge.”
Milley served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attacks on 9/11. Neither mission was considered a success for the U.S. The U.S. military hasn’t had a clear victory since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, when the U.S. successfully led a coalition that defended Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion.
U.S. Army officials said in a 2019 report — after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was deposed — that “Iran appears to be the only victor” of the Iraqi war.
The U.S. removed its remaining troops from Afghanistan in 2021, ending the U.S. military’s 20-year presence there and relinquishing control of the country to the Taliban.
But it’s worth noting that Milley was part of several military missions that were declared a success by the U.S. Army and reports from the Department of Defense. They include Operation Just Cause, a mission in Panama to restore power to elected official Guillermo Endara and arrest dictator Manual Noriega in 1989, and Operation Uphold Democracy, a U.S.-led military intervention authorized by the United Nations to restore elected government officials in Haiti in 1996.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Fernholz, Tim. “Army says Iran is the only victory of the Iraq War.” Yahoo. 22 Jan 2019.
Department of Defense. “MARK A. MILLEY.” Accessed 9 Feb 2023.
Oberle, Tim. “Get to Know the New Chief of Staff of the Army – General Mark A. Milley.” U.S. Army. 18 Aug 2015.
Jones, Brea. “Spending Bill Includes Pay Raise for Staffers, Not Members of Congress.” FactCheck.org. 6 May 2023.
History.com. “Saddam Hussein captured.” 13 Dec 2003.
Schwaller, Shannon. “Operation Just Cause: the Invasion of Panama.” U.S. Army. 17 Nov 2008.
Defense Technical Information Center. “Operation Uphold Democracy: Military Support for Democracy in Haiti.” 1 Jun 1996.
“GEN. MARK A. MILLEY, CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE ARMY.” Association of the United States Army. Accessed 10 Feb 2023.
“Meritorious Unit Commendation Display Recognition.” The American War Library. Accessed 10 Feb 2023.
“Korean Defense Service Medal.” Air Force’s Personnel Center. Accessed 10 Feb 2023.