The military has instituted a new medal, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, to honor great deeds performed by those who operate drones and other high-tech military systems operated from afar (such as, presumably, cyberwarfare). The problem is that in the hierarchy of medals, the Distinguished Warfare Medal outranks the Bronze Star (which is given for valor in combat) and the Purple Heart (which is given for getting wounded). The new medal has sparked outrage and ridicule from troops on the ground who have to face getting shot at, as well as veterans who had to put their lives on the line, unlike drone warriors. As a result of the uproar, military brass are reviewing the ranking.
From the Stars and Stripes:
The news that a medal has been created to honor the “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other servicemembers acting far from the battlefield has triggered strong reactions about medals and their value.
In one of his last official acts, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday announced the creation of the Distinguished Warfare Medal, to recognize “extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but do not involve acts of valor or physical risks that combat entails.”
The medal will rank immediately below the Distinguished Flying Cross — and higher than the Bronze Star — in order of precedence, according to a Defense Department chart. It can be awarded for any actions after Sept. 11, 2001.
“Our military reserves its highest decorations, obviously, for those who display gallantry and valor in actions where their lives are on the line, and we will continue to do so,” Panetta said. “But we should also have the ability to honor the extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations.”
Drones and cyberwarfare “have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta said.
Critics quickly pounced on the idea that medals for trigger-pullers would now be outranked by a medal for joystick-manipulators.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars voiced its displeasure in a statement Thursday, declaring that the 2 million-member organization “is in total disagreement” with the decision to have the new Distinguished Warfare Medal outrank the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, adding that it could “quickly deteriorate into a morale issue.”
“The VFW fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time,” said John E. Hamilton, VFW national commander and a combat-wounded Marine Corps rifleman in Vietnam. “But medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear.”
Also from Stars and Stripes (the newspaper for our troops):
The Distinguished Warfare Medal was established to acknowledge the most modern technology, but servicemembers and veterans are responding to the award’s creation in a decidedly old-school way: Mocking it mercilessly.
Along with an avalanche of Whiskey Tango Foxtrots and a tsunami of outrage, troops are circulating a photo of a gold-plated X-Box controller and the skull-emblazoned “Call of Duty” medal as “prototypes” of the new award, which honors servicemembers like drone pilots and computer hackers who impact combat operations from afar. The medal is being called the Chairborne Medal, the Distant Warfare Medal and the Purple Buttocks, among other names.
The Onion-esque military website “The Duffel Blog” poked fun at the new medal by posting two related stories: “Drone Pilot To Receive First Air Force Medal of Honor Since Vietnam” and “Heroic Predator Drone Is First Recipient of Distinguished Warfare Medal.”
“Doctrine Man,” an Army officer and purveyor of military humor, referred to the medal as a “pledge pin” and drew a comic suggesting that some drone pilots could earn the medal by flying a mission from the safety of the head. Then, drawing parallels to “A Few Good Men’s” Col. Jessup, he posted the comic in mouse pad form with the quote, “You need me on that joystick!”
So while the first servicemember to earn the medal will need to be an exceptional drone pilot or cyber whiz, he or she may also need a thick skin to wear it in public.