Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will reconsider new Distinguished Warfare Medal, for which drone operators are eligible. Critics complain it ranks higher than the Bronze Star or Purple Heart – awards for acts of valor in physical combat.
Since its debut last month, the new Distinguished Warfare Medal – promptly dubbed the “Nintendo” medal by troops – has been a magnet for controversy. Now, new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is apparently reconsidering whether such a medal – which could be awarded to cyber specialists, say, or remote operators of Predator or Reaper drones that kill enemy forces threatening the lives of troops on the ground – should retain its high ranking in the medal pecking order.
Pentagon officials are expected to announce Tuesday afternoon that the medal – created to award US troops for “extraordinary achievements directly impacting combat operations” – is under review.
The medal is meant to acknowledge contributions of troops “regardless of the member’s physical location or domain,” according to Pentagon background papers. Many pilots of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, operate their aircraft in Afghanistan from bases in Nevada.
The Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM) is the first new Defense Department-wide medal to be established since 1944. The award, these officials stress, is not to be awarded for acts of valor in combat.
Few have a problem with recognizing the contributions of UAV pilots whose achievements, officials note, “have in some cases dramatically changed how we conduct and support combat and other military operations.”
The problem is that the DWM was placed in order of precedence ahead of the Bronze Star, and even above the Bronze Star with a “V” device for valorous conduct in combat.
Since 9/11, only 2.5 percent of the more than 167,000 Bronze Stars meted out have been awarded with a “V,” according to Pentagon figures.
This point in particular – that the DWM would rank above a Bronze Star with “V” – prompted an outcry among veterans groups and, in a rare show of bipartisan unity, members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle.