Enraged veterans say President Obama “is treading into sacred ground” by allowing the Pentagon to establish a new medal intended to recognize the achievements of drone pilots and “computer geeks,” most of whom never leave the comfort of an air-conditioned building in Tampa or Las Vegas.
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.”
The Distinguished Warfare Medal has been approved by the Department of Defense and will be ready for awarding within weeks, although no names of any potential recipients have been made public .
According to DoD, the award is intended to recognize the “changing nature of war in which attacks conducted remotely have played an increasingly important role in gathering intelligence and killing enemy fighters and terrorists.”
Perhaps what raises combat veterans’ ire even more than the existence of the new medal is the fact that it will outrank several other combat-related decorations, such as the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and even the Prisoner of War medal.
Also, it involves Obama’s controversial use of drones, through which hundreds of people have been killed, including women and children. Obama even has used it to kill Americans abroad.
“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.
According to the military news site, Military.com, “The Pentagon has no plans to lower the precedence of its new medal for drone pilots and cyber warriors, notwithstanding criticism from veterans groups and troops that the medal ranks higher than some awarded for valor in combat.”
Juliet Beyler, acting director for officer and enlisted personnel management at the Defense Department, told the site, “The decision has been made, and there has been no opposition at the highest levels of the Pentagon to the new medal.”
But the same news site just a few days later acknowledged Congress may soon square off against the Defense Department over the medal.
A number of U.S. representatives, all veterans themselves, have issued a joint release decrying the creation and hierarchy of the new medal.
“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 the statement.
“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 newly appointed Secretary of Defense Secretary Chuck 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 are 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.