The most that has been publicly documented about Petraeus in real, actual combat is a mortar shell that landed near him in Iraq in 2003.
Yet he came away from the conflict with a Bronze Star for Combat Valor.
It's not uncommon to see a valor award on an upper level military officer, but a lot of those were earned in their days at lieutenants or, for former enlisted Mustang officers, their time as low-ranking 'straight-leg' grunts.
One Army Colonel, recently interviewed for an article in Time Magazine, described Patraeus as " a remarkable piece of fiction."
That Colonel is Douglas MacGregor, a famed tanker who once directed and took part in an intense 23 minute tank battle against Iraq's Revolutionary Guard. The battle yielded 70 enemy tanks destroyed, and no U.S. casualties.
In 1997, an official at the Army's National Training Center called MacGregor, "the best fighting man the Army's got" — which may be why MacGregor has continuously called Patraeus' resume into question.
In another interview, MacGregor said of Patraeus, "(He's) never pulled a trigger and killed the enemy in combat and has never been in direct fire combat."
MacGregor's criticism is a break from the usual praise heaped upon Patraeus from the media, the military, and politicians as a whole. As early as Nov. 10 Reuters described Patraeus as "a star on the battlefield." Newsweek stated in 2004, " It's widely accepted that no force worked harder to win Iraqi hearts and minds than the 101st Air Assault Division led by Petraeus."
Even politicians got in on the Patraeus-loving mix: "Petraeus will stand in the ranks of America’s greatest military heroes," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a statement just a few days ago, according to Politico.
What's not up for dispute here is Patraeus' career as an administrator of war — indeed, that subject is worth a whole other post. Good administrators can get a bronze star for meritorious service, but a bronze star for valor takes combat ... and then some valor within that combat.
Patraeus earned his Bronze Star with combat valor in 2003/4 for his time as a major general (two-star) in Iraq — which is odd enough, considering most combat valor awards involve actual combat and actual valor, something from which the military takes great pains to keep its generals at a distance from.
In a perfect world, the media might have caught this glaringly questionable award, but if you ask Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings, there are reasons the media never asked any questions about Patraeus.
So we here at Business Insider did the responsible thing and filed a Freedom Of Information Request for Patraeus' bronze star award citation.
In the meantime, here are a few actual Bronze Star with Combat V stories, taken straight from citations:
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