Drone pilots have played a vital role in the United States' military operations over the last several years, but the recent creation of a new medal for this specific subset of soldiers has irked a significant portion of the military community. The Distinguished Warfare Medal was created to honor achievement in acts outside of combat, but some advocates for veterans and active duty soldiers say the fact that it outranks other decorations earned in the line of fire is a disservice to other troops' sacrifice and bravery.
What is it?
The Distinguished Warfare Medal was created to honor servicemembers who have made an impact since September 11, 2001, outside of the battlefield. While the Department of Defense (DOD) does not specifically single out drone pilots, it does say that geographic location does not play a factor in deciding whether a soldier receives the medal. The DOD also touts recent technological advancements having an impact on the battlefield.
Senators, veterans advocates disagree
Soon after it was approved, cries of disagreement sprung among members of Congress and veterans advocates. Many took issue with the fact that the Distinguished Warfare Medal outranked the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, both of which require soldiers to put their life on the line. To express their displeasure, a group of 22 Senators wrote to newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"Placing the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart diminishes the significance of awards earned by risking one's life in direct combat or through acts of heroism. Moreover, the Distinguished Warfare Medal's placement directly above the Soldier's Medal – an award for bravery and voluntary risk of life not involving conflict with an armed enemy – diminishes the precedence given to acts of individual gallantry in circumstances other than combat."
The calls for a change in policy have not gone unheard. In fact, on Tuesday the military stopped producing the medals after Hagel ordered a review of the process, according to The Associated Press. The action comes as some lawmakers were working toward crafting legislation that would block the further creation of the Distinguished Warfare Medal. A Pentagon official told the AP that the review will tackle the order of precedence, and a decision on the medal could come by the end of the day Tuesday.