Drone Pilots, Cyber Warriors May Also Get Medals

The Pentagon has the Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone pilots and cyber warfare specialists that will rank higher in the order of precedence for military decorations than the Bronze Star with Combat "V."

WASHINGTON -- During an upcoming review of the military's decorations and awards system, the Defense Department will reconsider the sensitive issue of whether drone operators and cyber warriors will receive medals for their service far away from combat areas, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement last year that a new Distinguished Warfare Medal had been created for drone pilots and cyber operators drew heavy fire from veterans, politicians and others who objected to it being ranked above the Purple Heart and other decorations earned in direct combat.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel canceled the medal soon after taking office and said DoD would instead create a new device to affix to existing medals. But that decision is being revisited as part of an upcoming study of the military's decorations and awards system that Hagel ordered Thursday.

The "comprehensive" yearlong review, to begin June 1, will be led by acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness Jessica Wright, and she will work closely with Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, the services, and the combatant commanders, according to Kirby.

"[The study will] determine the best way to recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations, such as through cyber and remotely piloted aircraft ... That's part of the review, whether or not we should have a special device to go on another ribbon or [a new] medal," Kirby said.

The review team will also look at how the awards program is structured to see whether it's too service-centric, as well as examine the processes and procedures by which medals for valor are nominated in order to determine whether they can be improved, according to Kirby.

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Drones Awards