Congress Asks Hagel To Demote Drone Medal

Congress is banding together on a bipartisan basis to fight the greatest problem facing the country: the precedence of the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star.

distinguished-warfare-medal

Congress is banding together on a bipartisan basis to fight the greatest problem facing the country: the precedence of the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star.

Kevin Baron reporting for Foreign Policy (“Lawmakers ask Hagel to demote drone medal“):

It’s not looking good for the new Golden X-box Controller award for drone pilots.

Four dozen members of Congress have joined a growing chorus of critics asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to demote the rank of the Pentagon’s new Distinguished Warfare Medal.

The medal, announced last month, is intended to recognize troops who contribute to the war on terrorism but who are not in the line of fire.

The problem, according to a growing number of veterans groups, lawmakers, and outraged military-philes, is that among the pecking order of service medals, the Pentagon has decided to rank the new drone medal directly below the Distinguished Flying Cross, making it the seventh-highest ranking medal, far higher than the lowest-ranking combat medals awarded to troops who actually put their lives on the line, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, for those wounded in action.

“We lessen the direct-combat recognitions of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star by giving the DWM higher precedence,” said Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, in a statement on Tuesday. “Secretary Hagel should take a hard look at this and make an adjustment in precedence.”

Pentagon press secretary George Little and Col. Steve Warren, DOD press operations director, already have acknowledged that the Pentagon is hearing the complaints, but insist a lot of thinking went into where to rank the medal. To get the medal requires the approval of a service secretary, a very high requirement that they say means the drone warfare award won’t be handed out lightly.

[…]

The lawmakers of this week’s sign-on letter say they applaud the intent of the medal, just not its placement among other medals. They call it “a disservice to Purple Heart recipients.” To receive Bronze Star, they note, a service member is required to be serving in “an imminent danger area. No such requirement exist for the DWM.”

As I noted in my post “Distinguished Warfare Medal for Armchair Warriors,” ranking the award above the Bronze Star rankles the sensibilities of those who’ve served, although mostly because they misunderstand the awards system. That is, the Bronze Star was never intended to be a very exalted award and has in fact been awarded quite generously. And the Distinguished Flying Cross—which the Distinguished Warfare Medal would actually be equivalent to, ranking below it in precedence only by virtue of being newer—has long been awarded reasons other than valor in all services but the Army. (Indeed, I didn’t realize the latter until I researched the post.)

My guess, though, is that the backlash will be heeded and the award downgraded to Bronze Star-equivalent which, again, would therefore put it lower in precedence because it’s a newer award.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    Good. The sooner congress gets this behind them the sooner they can get back to their real work naming Post Offices.

  2. Scot says:

    Thus making it possible for some Senator’s son to become a war hero.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    Good. The sooner congress gets this behind them the sooner they can get back to their real work naming Post Offices.

    The problem with you gVOR8 is that despite of the mountains of evidence which are there for you to see if only you would remove the blinders, you still hold too high an opinion of Congress.

  4. john personna says:

    Generally if one opposes drone warfare, one should support downgrading the heroism of drone warfare.

    I agree that moving a medal up or down a slot isn’t a big deal, but … better down than up.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scot:

    Thus making it possible for some Senator’s son to become a war hero.

    Said like a true politician….. I’m watching you Scot.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Aaargh, you got me.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    This is exactly the kind of stuff that leads to a 15% public approval rating of Congress.
    Bravo!

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    As a combat vet I didn’t really agree with this as a medal. The award reflects a skill, a very technical one, but still a skill. Why not something like the marksman’s medal and perhaps a set of wings to be worn above the other ribbons? Also, the actual controllers are, I believe, enlisted personnel and I don’t think low-order medal awards count too heavily for promotion. But higher end awards do affect promotion consideration for officers, is that correct? Perhaps that’s why the medal was concieved of in the first place.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Aside from maybe the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service/Navy/Air Force Cross, which have a certain legendary status, medals don’t much matter for officer promotions.

    According to both the former SECDEF and the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Distinguished Warfare Medal is designed to recognize extraordinary achievement in combat with the enemy of a level that would earn a pilot flying a manned plane into combat a Distinguished Flying Cross. This isn’t just for achieving proficiency but for actually killing our nation’s enemies.

    I don’t have the slightest problem with giving them a combat award for that. I’m leery, though, of giving them an award that outranks an award you have to risk getting shot at to earn.

  10. Mr. Prosser says:

    @James Joyner: I agree with you I guess because the controllers are helping troops on the ground and thanks for the info. As an enlisted man I always assumed medals were important to officers. Anyway, in the cynical judgement of enlisted society the medal may earn a rather derisive nickname as time goes on.

  11. Barry says:

    James: “Pentagon press secretary George Little and Col. Steve Warren, DOD press operations director, already have acknowledged that the Pentagon is hearing the complaints, but insist a lot of thinking went into where to rank the medal. To get the medal requires the approval of a service secretary, a very high requirement that they say means the drone warfare award won’t be handed out lightly.”

    ‘A lot of thinking’? My guess is that the only thought which went into this was to make it higher ranking than Army/Marine Corps combat medals.

  12. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    My understanding is that the American military awards medals in two basic categories, merit and valor. Unfortunately, your article brings little emphasis to this point. However successful the earners of the proposed medal will be, I cannot construe their efforts as valorous as they are in no real danger, and certainly no danger at all compared to members of the combat arms. I would suggest that this be the starting point of any discussions of this matter.

    Additionally, the Bronze Star analysis tends to confuse things even further as it can be awarded for merit and, with the addition of a “V” device, for valor. (Same-same for the Army Commendation Medal.) As to the Purple Heart, the medal no one really wants, it, to my mind, could actually fall in either category depending on the actual circumstance, say throwing oneself on a hand grenade versus getting hit by shrapnel while having a martini in the “O” club.

    The military has a certain affinity for both ranks and traditions. Instead of awarding already extant medals for meritorious service, the brainiacs have once again succumbed to their sense of their own specialness, and this being the age of “Everyone gets a trophy.” a certain level of synergy occurred. If a staffer had brought this suggestion to me, I would have said, “Why, yes, certainly, but lets call it the “Distinguished Tubefare Medal” and, hopefully that would have enlightened the individual to the error of his way.

    These kind of brouhahas arise occasionally within the military. My own experience, during my all-expense-paid tour of sunny Southeast Asia, had to do with what was then called combat pay. Not only was everybody in-country getting it, but they got the same amount was those in the actual combat arms. These kinds of stupidities are insuppressible in large bureaucratic organizations.

  13. JACK STINSON says:

    AS A ENLISTED COMBAT VET FROM VIETNAM (GRUNT CORPSMAN) I THINK THAT A PERSON WHO WORE THAT RIBBON WOULD BE ASKING FOR IT FROM A GRUNT.