Barely 24 hours after the Pentagon announced its new medal for cyber warriors and drone pilots, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is demanding the decoration's ranking be lowered. The Distinguished Warfare Medal is ranked above both the Bronze Star with Combat "V" and the Purple Heart – medals typically awarded for combat in which the servicemember's life is at risk.
"The VFW fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time, but medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear," VFW National Commander John E. Hamilton said in a statement released Thursday. "The VFW urges the Department of Defense to reconsider the new medal's placement in the military order of precedence."
Hamilton said the new medal and its ranking "could quickly deteriorate into a morale issue."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who announced the new award on Wednesday, said the military needed a medal that recognizes that post-9/11 warfare is different with servicemembers at consoles in the U.S. directly affecting the outcome of enemy engagements. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously served as CIA director, said in a statement that he had "seen first-hand how modern tools like remotely-piloted platforms and cyber systems have changed the way wars can be fought, changed the course of battle even from afar." But there had been no way previously to honor the efforts of the technicians with a military decoration. "For that reason, I formally approved establishing the Distinguished Warfare Medal," Panetta said.
The award has been in the works for some time. Nearly a year ago, an MQ-18 Hummingbird instructor pilot and AC-130U pilot argued for a combat medal for drone operators in Air & Space Power Journal.
Maj. Dave Blair dismissed the argument that fighting a war from a computer monitor is not the same as the traditional interpretation of combat -- that "it is not honorable."
"[We] might say the same for firing a missile beyond visual range from a fighter cloaked with stealth technology," he wrote. "It would be hard to imagine that the same individual would feel compelled to activate his radar transponder upon contact with the enemy, just to restore honor to his kill by mitigating his technological defenses."
He also said drone pilots are in danger, just like pilots flying aircraft over the combat theater.
"Recall that the individuals killed in the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 on the Pentagon received the Purple Heart, a combat medal," he wrote. "This war is global, and our enemies have global reach as well. If we found ourselves in our enemies' position, would we spend the time and attract attention attempting to purchase a high-profile missile when a terror attack on RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] operators in the continental United States would produce better results?"