The U.S. Department of Defense has folded on its plans to create a special medal – ranking higher than the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star – for drone operators.
The announcement today acknowledged the dissatisfaction from veterans groups and others with the plans announced earlier by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to use the medal.
“Concerns were raised to me about the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s order of precedence veterans’ organizations, by members of Congress, and other stakeholders whose views are valued by this department’s leadership,” he said in a statement about the cancellation of plans for the medal.
“The medal was originally conceived to be awarded only to those men and women who, while serving off the battlefield, have an extraordinary impact on combat operations. While the review confirmed the need to ensure such recognition, it found that misconceptions regarding the precedence of the award were distracting from its original purpose.”
Hagel said that instead of a medal, a “device” will be created.
“Based on the April 9, 2013, recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and concurred in by the Military Department Secretaries, I agree that such recognition is best accomplished through the creation of a distinguishing device that may be affixed to existing medals at various levels rather than through award of the DWM,” Hagel said.
“I direct that within 90 days, final award criteria and the specifics of the distinguishing device, as referenced in the April 9 recommendations, be developed and presented to me for final approval.”
He continued, “Utilizing a distinguishing device to recognize impacts on combat operations reserves our existing combat medals for those service members who incur the physical risk and hardship of combat, perform valorous acts, are wounded in combat, or as a result of combat give their last full measure for our nation.”
Among those who had protested the ranking of medals for drone operators was American Legion national commander James E. Koutz.
He said the placement of the new medal above those given for valor and courage under fire was “wholly inappropriate.”
Hagel had put a temporary halt to the program on April 5.
Koutz said the change of plans keeps the role of military combatants in perspective.
“Cyber and drone warfare have become part of the equation for 21st century combat, and those who fight such battles with distinction certainly deserve to be recognized. But the American Legion still believes there’s a fundamental difference between those who fight remotely, or via computer, and those fighting against an enemy who is trying to kill them.”
WND first reported on widespread complaints within the U.S. military about the plans, resulting in that Pentagon decision to delay and restudy its medal plans.
WND’s report had 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.
A spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart had said many veterans objected to the medal ranking above those awarded for acts of valor, and says that is not fair to troops serving on the front lines.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had announced the medal earlier, 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.”
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.:”
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.”
Hundreds of people have been killed overseas through the U.S. drone program, which was hugely expanded under Obama’s direction.
As WND reported, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and several others staged a filibuster over the nomination of a 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.