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GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Nov. 8, 2018) – Austrian Army Col. Gottfried Salchner, the Austrian chair for the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, talks about teamwork after he is presented with the Legion of Merit Medal by Marshall Center Director retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton during an award ceremony held here Nov. 8. (DOD photo by Karl-Heinz Wedhorn)

By Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Nov. 8, 2018) – The U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis awarded the Legion of Merit Medal to Austrian Army Col. Gottfried Salchner, the Austrian chair for the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

Salchner, who was also the deputy director for the Marshall Center’s Program on Cyber Security Studies, was presented the medal by the Marshall Center Director retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton in a ceremony held here Nov. 8. The Marshall Center is a 25-year German-American international security and defense studies institute based here.

“This is a tremendous privilege, and I will accept this medal with respect and humility,” Salchner said during the ceremony. “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.”

Rare Award for an Austrian Officer

The Legion of Merit Medal was established on July 20, 1942 by the U.S. Congress. It is awarded to members of the U.S. military, as well as 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. Beside the Medal of Honor, it is the only U.S. military award 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 has only recommended the medal once before to an officer from a foreign country 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 U.S. Department of Defense and German Ministry of Defense 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 annually program on cyber security studies and provides an opportunity for participants to 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 department of defense or ministry of defence 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 talked about how he and Salchner would brainstorm on how 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.”

Distinguished Career

After 44 years in the Austrian Army, Salchner will retire at the end of this month.

Salchner’s first appointments abroad was in the Republic of Cyprus as unit commander and, than, as a senior logistics officer, responsible for training Hungarian soldiers during their first United Nations mission.

He served as a spokesperson in Austria and as spokesperson to two NATO Kosovo Forces commanders.

Posted to the Ministry of Defence, Salchner became the adjutant to two Austrian Secretaries of Defense. In the United States, he was the deputy defense, military and air force attaché in Washington, D.C.

Great Seminar Leader

“As the only representative from the Republic of Austria, he provided distinctive insight representing a neutral nation within the 13 international programs conducted by the Marshall Center on behalf of the U.S. and German governments,” Dayton said. “We had him do many, many other things besides cyber security. He really jumped in and asked what can he do to be a full member of the team, and he was a full member of the team.”

Dayton added, “He was a great seminar leader.”

Agreeing with Dayton are participants who attended the Program on Applied Security Studies in 2016 and were members of Salchner’s seminar.

“Great leader. He was a great inspiration and motivated the seminar throughout the program,” said Shkelzen Sopjani, inspector general with the Kosovo Intelligence Agency. “In a group with people from different cultures and backgrounds, regions and continents, his leadership was crucial in maintaining unity and cohesiveness throughout the program.”

Jordanian Armed Forces Col. Omar Al-Shqairat, chief of policy and strategy development branch,  said “Gottfried is the best seminar leader, friend and brother. He was always encouraging teamwork and for us to be active in the program.”

Cypriot Armed Forces Lt. Col. Savvas Stephanou, from the military intelligence agency in Cyprus, said, “Knowledge, experience and humanity are the main attributes of Gottfried’s leadership skills. He always managed to create an environment of opinion and knowledge sharing between people of different cultures, religion and professional backgrounds, and he brought the best out of everybody in the team.”

“He made the difference for participants during PASS,” said German Air Force Col. Jörn Apelt, branch head of digitalization of the Directorate-General for Forces Policy of the German Ministry of Defense. “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.”

Teamwork

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.”