Soldiers who took part in the rescue and recovery actions on 22 March 2o16, the day of the terror attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station, will not receive a medal of commendation, the federal defence ministry has announced. The medal is normally awarded for “courage and devotion to duty”. Some 40 soldiers were on patrol on the days of the attacks, both at the airport and in the area of Maalbeek, which is in the centre of the European quarter.
Their immediate superiors recommended the award, but senior defence officers disagreed.
“The work of the army that day was outstanding, but any soldier would have dome the same,” one defence spokesperson said, explaining that the service wanted to avoid the creation of a “hero status”.
Military representatives reacted with disappointment. “The job of these soldiers was to patrol and to support the police,” said Edwin Lauwereins of the VSOA union. “But immediately after the airport attack they went into the severely damaged departures hall at a risk to their own lives, fighting against the stream of feeling people. They took care of the wounded with their own emergency medical kits and helped wherever they could until the emergency services were on the scene.”
Seven other soldiers made their way into Maalbeek station after the explosion there, looking for victims and helping other passengers to evacuate both Maalbeek and Arts-Loi stations further up the line.
As well as those on duty on 22 March, a soldier who neutralised a suspected bomber in Brussels Central station was also refused a decoration.