Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday promised a decision next week on whether to change the order of precedence that now places the new Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone pilots and cyber-warriors above the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with combat 'V.'
"It is a concern to me, it is a concern to any veteran," Hagel said of the current order of precedence for the DWM that was approved in February by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in one of his final acts as the Pentagon chief.
Hagel said he would decide early next week in response to questions from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the budget. Wilson said he recognized the contributions of the drone and cyber operatives to the nation's defense but "unfortunately, there is this issue of precedence. This is a great concern to many veterans and their families," Wilson said.
In creating the new medal, Panetta said that it would provide "distinct, department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and other vets groups immediately questioned the order of precedence. Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts for service as an Army sergeant in Vietnam, ordered a halt to the production of the medal for a panel led by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to study the issue.
VFW Commander John Hamilton made sure to point out that he didn't want the debate over the medal to be misconstrued as a critique of drone operators and cyber specialists.
"This is a policy disagreement over the placement of the new medal, not whether drone operators, cyber warriors and others don't deserve to be properly recognized for the tremendous impact they are bringing to the battlefield in real-time," he said.