Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will not alter the ranking of the recently announced Distinguished Warfare Medal, intended for drone pilots that has drawn controversy because it takes precedence over the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart.
In a letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the first group to come out against the new medal's ranking, Hagel said he is satisfied with the criteria and placement of the new medal. The medal is intended for drone pilots and cyber warfare specialists whose actions have a direct impact on combat operations.
"I have discussed at length the reasoning and process leading up to establishing the DWM with the [service secretaries and chiefs] and accept their judgment that the award is at the appropriate level," Hagel said in his letter.
Hagel is currently visiting troops in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said the secretary acknowledged the issues that veterans group have with the medal, but does not plan to change its order of precedence.
"The medal was unanimously recommended by the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary. We understand the concerns of veteran's groups, but at this time, there's no plan to change the DWM's order of precedence," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.
VFW Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton is now calling on its members across the country to "light up Congress' phone lines and emails" to demand legislation downgrading the medal.
"I cannot tell you how displeased I am with the new defense secretary for not overruling what has proven to be an extremely divisive decision by his predecessor," Hamilton wrote in a letter Friday to all VFW department, district and post commanders.
He said "the buck hasn't stopped yet."
"We have many friends in Congress who agree 100 percent with our position to lower the medal's precedence to below the Purple Heart -- and they have introduced companion bills in both the House and Senate to do just that," he said.
The House filed legislation in late February and a bill was introduced into the Senate on March 7 to reduce the ranking of the new medal.
Lawmakers from both houses of Congress had written to Hagel asking him to lower the ranking of the DWM. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC, sent a letter on March 4 co-signed by 48 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats.
The Pentagon notified Wilson and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. -- who also asked the Defense Department to lower the medal's ranking -- on Friday.
As established, the DWM directly follows the Distinguished Flying Cross, a valor award, which places it higher than the Bronze Star, which may be awarded for valor, and the Purple Heart, which is awarded only for combat wounds or injuries.