More than a week after WND first reported on widespread complaints within the U.S. military, the Pentagon has announced it is delaying plans for a new medal for drone operators and cyber war fighters that outranked the Purple Heart for soldiers wounded in combat.
WND’s report disclosed that the honor, called the Distinguished Warfare Medal, was already in the pipeline and slated to be given to drone controllers operating out of computer centers in the U.S.
But complaints arose immediately that it was designated to outrank such recognition of battlefield valor as the Purple Heart.
Now, officials confirm, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the review of the medal.
A spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart says many veterans object to the medal ranking above those awarded for acts of valor, and says that is not fair to troops serving on the front lines.
The Distinguished Warfare Medal would be the first combat-related award created since the Bronze Star. It would be considered just higher than the Bronze Star but lower than the Silver Star.
Grades of medals affect promotions for those still in service. The higher the grade, the more points awarded, which count towards promotions.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the medal last month, saying, “I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought.”
He continued, “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”
A government official said if the review sides with the complaints, the medal would likely be renamed and new medals would have to be made.
Hagel says Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will spearhead the review of how the medal is ranked.
A memo said, “In light of concerns about the medal’s place in the order of precedence raised by veterans organizations and a number of members of Congress … Secretary Hagel is going to work with” Dempsey, and other military officials to review the ranking and report back in 30 days.
The new medal was apparently prompted by the increased use of drones in conducting airstrikes and gathering intelligence.
Vietnam-era pilot and veteran Terry Reed told WND, “Giving ‘gamers’ a medal, instead of people who actually suffered in real combat, will definitely be demoralizing.
“This is a slap in the face of all combat veterans who serve in harm’s way,” he added. “I know for a fact that military pilots are not happy about this new medal.”
“A guy with a joystick in an air-conditioned room in ‘Tampa-stan’ or ‘Vegas-stan’ (the term some in the military use to describe the drone war rooms), who lives at home and gets to see his family every night when he gets off work, should not be receiving a medal of higher importance than the real pilots who are actually in harm’s way,” said Reed.
A number of U.S. representatives, all veterans themselves, had criticized the plan.
“U.S. Representatives Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Tom Rooney, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and Tim Murphy, a U.S. Navy reservist, introduced legislation today prohibiting the Department of Defense from rating the Distinguished Warfare Medal equal to or higher than the Purple Heart,” according to a statement released by the group.
“Combat valor awards have a deep and significant meaning to those who serve in America’s military,” said Hunter. “These awards represent not just actions, but also the courage and sacrifice that derive from experiences while in harm’s way.
“And those engaged in direct combat put their lives on the line, accepting extraordinary personal risk,” he continued.
“There is nothing wrong with having a military award that recognizes commendable actions off the battlefield, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that combat valor awards are not diminished in any way.”
The VFW commander-in-chief, John Hamilton, didn’t waste time allowing the newly appointed Hagel to settle in to his new role when he delivered a letter blasting the prominence of the new medal on Hagel’s first day on the job.
“It’s important to recognize drone pilots and others, but medals that can only be earned in combat must outrank new medals earned in the rear,” Hamilton said.
According to the VFW, “It’s extremely rare for veterans’ service organizations to publicly chastise the Defense Department, but the new medal risks being looked down upon by veterans.”
One veteran WND spoke with by phone said he does more than “look down” on this new medal.
It will not receive any respect, said Marine Richard Cromley.
“I know many soldiers that earned medals of valor, and every one of them deserved their award,” he said.
“What ‘valor’ do these drone pilots produce by sitting in an office?” he asked. “This ain’t right.”
Reed wondered how an award can be given to those who don’t put their life on the line.
“A postman serves his country well, but he doesn’t exactly put his life in jeopardy,” he said. “This is changing the rulebook in the middle of the game, and it is demoralizing.”
According to the VFW, there hasn’t been a new combat-related award created since World War II.
Rep. Rooney, a Republican from Florida, said that like many fellow veterans, he has “grave concerns with the decision to rank the new Distinguished Warfare Medal above traditional combat valor medals like the Purple Heart.”
“There is no greater sacrifice than risking your own life to save another on the battlefield, and the order of precedence should appropriately reflect the reverence we hold for those willing to make that sacrifice,” he said.
Several groups were urging action, with one group seeking 100,000 signatures on the White House petition website.
Regardless of the status of the petition asking the Obama administration to intercede, Congress may act anyway.
Murphy said, “I know personally from my Navy service with combat-wounded veterans at Walter Reed that their Purple Heart should and must rank above the Distinguished Warfare Medal.
“If the Pentagon will not reconsider the decision to rank this medal above the Purple Heart, the House will take action,” he promised.
The issue of drones itself is a controversy for Obama, since hundreds have been killed under his direction with the program overseas. There also have been concerns that Obama would use drones domestically.
As WND reported, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and several others staged a filibuster over the nomination of CIA director nominee because of “Obama’s use of drones has mushroomed overseas, and individuals, including American citizens, have been targeted.”
Notably, the administration initially refused to confirm Obama would not use lethal drone attacks on Americans.
Attorney General Eric Holder had said, “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”
He confirmed Obama “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
After the filibuster, Holder changed his statement, assuring Paul that the president would not use lethal drone attacks on Americans on U.S. soil.