GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany —
The Austrian chair for the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal to in a ceremony held here Nov. 8.
The award was approved by Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and presented to Austrian Army Col. Gottfried Salchner by Keith W. Dayton, the Marshall Center director.
“This is a tremendous privilege, and I will accept this medal with respect and humility,” said Salchner, who was also the deputy director for the Marshall Center’s Program on Cyber Security Studies.
“I wonder if I really deserve it because I know many comrades and colleagues here at the Marshall Center, who work very hard, but they never receive an award; therefore, I want to accept the Legion of Merit on behalf of all of them,” he said.
Rare Award for an Austrian Officer
The Legion of Merit Medal was established by Congress on July 20, 1942. It is awarded to members of the U.S. military and foreign military members and political figures who have displayed exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. It is one of the highest military medals that can be awarded to foreign officers.
The Legion of Merit Medal is a five-rayed white cross, edged with red, resting on a green wreath with a blue center containing 13 white stars. It and the Medal of Honor are only U.S. military awards that may also be worn around the neck.
“This is a big award for a foreign officer, and it’s more complicated getting this award for a foreign officer than it is for a U.S. officer,” said Dayton, who said he has only recommended the medal for an officer from a foreign country once before, when he was in Iraq. “There are clear rules. You can’t just award a U.S. medal to a foreign officer unless it is cleared by the U.S. embassy in the country and their embassy in Washington, D.C.”
When the award is presented to foreign parties, it is divided into separate ranking degrees: Chief Commander, Commander, Officer and Legionnaire. Salchner’s medal is in the officer category.
Salchner said, “I know of only two other active-duty Austrian officers who have received the Legion of Merit Medal in this category.”
From what could be discovered in the Marshall Center archives, Salchner is also only the 2nd faculty member from a foreign country to receive this medal in the 25-year history of the Marshall Center.
Cofounded Marshall Center’s Cyber Program
“We recommended Colonel Salchner for this award because he was one of the cofounders of our Program on Cyber Security Studies, and for an Austrian officer that is pretty exceptional.” Dayton explained, “Usually, these programs are created by the American or German faculty, but Colonel Salchner stepped in to help develop this program, and he stayed with it the entire time he was here.”
The Marshall Center is a 25-year DOD-German Defense Ministry transatlantic defense educational institution, which has more than 13,000 alumni from 154 nations.
First held in December 2014, PCSS is the Marshall Center’s annual program on cyber security studies. Participants discuss and address the many challenges in the cyber environment while adhering to the fundamental values of democratic society. PCSS focuses on areas that are not just within the normal DOD or MOD lanes or areas of expertise, but also examines whole-of-government approaches in addressing cyber security issues and challenges.
“We are the only Department of Defense regional center that has the authority to do a transnational program like this with participants from all over the world,” Dayton said.
During the ceremony, the other cofounder of PCSS and its director, Professor Phil Lark said he and Salchner would brainstorm ways to make PCSS a program where “participants can appreciate the nature and magnitude of today’s cyber threats and develop a common understanding of the best practices and current initiatives within the public and private cyber sectors.”
More than once during the ceremony Lark said, “PCSS could not have happened without Gottfried.”
Salchner’s former students also praised his efforts.
“He made the difference for participants during PCSS,” said German air force Col. Jörn Apelt, branch head of digitalization of the Directorate General for Forces Policy for the German Defense Ministry. “His level of motivation and his diplomatic skills are outstanding.”
Nigerian army Col. Mahamadou Magagi, director of the National Center for Strategic Security Studies in Niamey, said, “Gottfried was an excellent seminar leader. He encouraged us to work smart and not hard and get to the point. He helped us to become a team.”
It’s teamwork that Salchner mentioned over and over again during his speech at the ceremony.
“A team is more than a group of colleagues,” he said. “Teamwork means to supplement knowledge, to share information, ideas and expertise. It means cooperation and support, and to be available when needed.”
“The Legion of Merit is an indication that I had the opportunity to spend seven years in a great team of international comrades here at the Marshall Center.” He added, “I will miss this place, the classroom, the participants, and I will miss all programs and courses we made, together.”
After 44 years in the Austrian army, Salchner will retire at the end of this month.