Bob, I do believe Star Fleet has done quite a few Special ops, but it is not their primary mission.
Well, consider that Starfleet has many mission objectives. It's a very large organization, comprised of several different branches. It's usual, and most obvious mission, is exploration. Not really "diplomatic relations". Just exploration. But, since it is a large organization, it has elements within itself that handles, well, pretty much evetyhing else, and....
It's not quite as simple as having just one primary mission, lol.
I never said that was their primary mission. But I think Gene was being a little naive in thinking he could create a universe where the ships are operated in a military manner, use military ranks, and use military weapons and tactics yet claim there is no "militarization" in Star Trek.
Star Fleet wasn't the primary focus of Star Trek, and a ships Captain held the interests of the United Federation of Planets as his primary responsibility. Star Fleet is military. The UFP is the heart of Star Trek.
I always found that wierd, since in TOS there was all that fighting with the Klingons and the Romulans. I mean, wasn't there, like, almost a Klingon War? It always struck me as a sort of "in denial" kind of thing.
And OP, I think they do still give out medals and commendations. But I think the reason we don't see too much of 'em floatin' around everywhere is for the same reasons that Data kept his put away: they're not really all that important. Nice tokens and all that, but ultimately just that.
If I recall rightly, the Klingons and Feds are only at a ceasefire throughout OTS until the Organians intervene. Even then it's not really a true peace as both sides still dislike each other.
This discussion about how military Starfleet is is fine and all but....
Saluting is hardly a 'hardcore military' tradition or something. Its a show of respect. The specific hand-motion used in STO and most modern militaries isnt the only 'salute' in existence, neither are salutes only used in militaries.
IMO at least, Gene may have thought of saluting and giving medals as being militaristic, but i would disagree with him.
As for Starfleet, no matter how you cut it, its a military with ships that are either already combat ready or can be retrofitted to be warships when needed. Military ranks, military command structure, military operations. Given the various naval traditions you really might as well have people salute.
I can buy that perhaps starfleet personnel dont salute except at formal functions. Then again, its technically protocol to even announce the commanding officer's presence when he or she enters a deck. I think thats even more military.