NEW YORK — The Pentagon should make it easier to learn more about service members who are recognized for performing acts of heroism, according to the head of a media organization that chronicled dozens of stories about U.S. military valor overseas.
Warren Stephens, president and chief executive officer of Stephens Inc. and an owner of Stephens Media, issued the call on Monday night while accepting an award for a series that Stephens Media newspapers published in 2009 and 2010.
"Saluting American Valor" was awarded the 2012 Excellence in Media Award by Fedcap, a New York-based nonprofit that provides vocational training and jobs for veterans and others challenged to find work.
The series that ran for 54 days in November and December 2009, and monthly over the next year, told the stories of 86 U.S. service members recognized for heroism in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they were awarded the Silver Star, the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star with Valor attachment and other medals.
Included were stories about the 10 service members who were granted the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest acknowledgement for "personal bravery and self-sacrifice." Seven of the honorees were killed in the line of duty.
The project profiled "some incredible individuals who did extraordinary things on behalf of this country and their fellow soldiers," Stephens told an audience of about 400 at Fedcap’s annual dinner at the New York Public Library.
Stephens said it was a challenge to identify and locate subjects for the stories. It became necessary for project editors to approach each branch of the military individually because the process for awarding and reporting valor medals was decentralized throughout the Pentagon.
As it faced continued pressure from archivists, the Pentagon this summer established a searchable system for valor awards, in part to root out fraudsters who lie about having served in the military and earning medals. However, the database has been criticized for containing errors and still not being complete.
"I hope our military will make access to this type of information easier in the future," Stephens said.
The award was presented by Marie Tillman, widow of Pat Tillman, who famously quit a pro football career in 2002 to join the U.S. Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan two years later.
Marie Tillman, who heads a foundation in her late husband’s name, said the valor series "told stories that really matter, the ones that will outlive us all, the stories of brave men and women who answered the call."
The stories are posted on an interactive website, www.americanvalor.net, and were compiled in a book, "Saluting American Valor," published by Stephens Press.
At the dinner, Stephens singled out four employees of his Little Rock-based investment banking operation who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and then returned to the company when their military service ended.
—Mark Valenzuela of the company’s information technology department, who deployed in 2004 and again in 2008 to Iraq with the 39th Infantry Brigade. He served as a platoon leader in 2004 in areas south of Baghdad and as an intelligence officer in 2008.
—Security Officer Ricky Collins, who served 20 years in the Arkansas National Guard, including five years of active duty and a stint in Iraq as an anti-terrorism superintendent at the Baghdad airport.
—Security Officer Ryan Rumbley, who served in Kuwait in 2002, Krygyzstan in 2005 and 2009, and in Afghanistan in 2005.
—Tim Roachell, senior security officer at Stephens Inc., who was awarded two Bronze Stars with Valor attachments during two combat tours in Iraq. During his second deployment, Roachell was responsible for protection of State Department personnel, including U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Stephens also credited Mark Doramus, the chief financial officer at Stephens Inc. Doramus’ father was awarded the Silver and Bronze stars during World War II, and after his father was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Doramus shared the medal citations with Stephens.
"Mark’s father’s actions in combat were remarkable," Stephens recalled. "That’s when it hit me that ordinary Americans were doing extraordinary things in the service of our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and somebody needed to tell their stories."