About that new “Distinguished Warfare Medal” for drone pilots
[In case you didn't realize this already, that is not the actual medal, that is a photoshopped joke about it.]
It’s been a pretty wild last couple of months for the Pentagon, especially for our outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. First he drops the bomb about the women’s combat unit exclusion policy going away. Then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says that maybe the standard will have to be lowered so we can have more women in those units. Dire predictions flow every day from the puzzle palace about the effect of sequestration on the ability to fight and win wars. Then comes the suggestion that we lower troops pay. But while we’re doing that, we’re also expanding benefits to the spouses of same sex couples, even though that might violate the Defense of Marriage Act. Congress jumps in with hearings about what happened (or more accurately didn’t happen) to on the ground support of the Ambassador in Libya, and why the DOD didn’t have anything in place to help those men out. We may, or may not, be setting up a drone base in western Africa, and the drones may or may not be used to kill Americans who are working with Al Qaeda based on the legal papers that were leaked by the DOJ. And the nomination for Panetta’s replacement, Senator Chuck Hagel, is currently being filibustered. In April 170,000 retirees are being pushed out of Tricare Prime in the western States, and we're still passing out flyers in Afghanistan discussing how being courteous to the locals will stop them from shooting at us.
Somehow this all added up to it being a good time to anger just about everyone not angered by the preceding by creating a medal for drone pilots that is actually higher up in the hierarchy of medals than things like the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Bronze Star….
In a nod to the changing nature of warfare, the Pentagon on Wednesday created a new medal recognizing combat contributions of people like drone pilots and cyber warriors who are reshaping the battlefield, even from thousands of miles away.
Outgoing Defense Secretary and former CIA Director Leon Panetta - who spent much of the past four years bolstering those new capabilities - announced the decision to create the "Distinguished Warfare Medal" at a Pentagon news conference.
"I've seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought," Panetta said. “This award recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century."
It is the ninth-highest warfare medal the Pentagon can bestow on troops - even higher than the Bronze Star. Importantly, it is the only combat medal that a military service member can receive without actually physically being in the same geographic area where combat took place.
Now, to be honest, I should have written about this last week, much like the VFW did, and they parlayed it into a front page story on FoxNews. (Good for them.) But honestly, I thought the whole thing was so idiotic I almost put it entirely out of my head. Credit where it is due though, VFW had some good comments on this:
“It’s a boneheaded decision,” VFW spokesman Joe Davis told FoxNews.com. “This is going to affect morale and it’s sending troops in the field a horrible message.”
By Thursday afternoon, more than 800 responses had been posted on the VFW’s Facebook page. Many said the medal’s high ranking on the military medal hierarchy would hurt an already-bruised U.S. military morale.
John Hamilton, the VFW’s commander-in-chief, said in a statement that his organization “fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time,” but added that “medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear.”
The organization says that at a time when the Defense Department is being hit with budget cuts and entire military towns are bracing for the effects of the upcoming sequester, announcing a new medal that honors members who aren’t fighting on the front lines sends a bad message.
“It’s like, ‘Why am I slogging through the mud, dirt and sand when someone who can go home every night to their family gets recognized?’ Davis said. “The people in the Pentagon should ask themselves how this is going to play out. The government didn’t do this to the troops. The Pentagon did it to themselves.”
My friends at Ranger Up’s Rhino Den went even further:
[There] are medals that you have to be in the battle to earn. You have actually had to leave your family at home while you deploy to some [hell]hole somewhere and EARN THEM on or above the battlefield. You have actually been place in a situation where your life could have ended due to enemy action.
BUT NOT ANY MORE!!!!! You can now “earn” a medal that will rank between a Silver Star and a Bronze Star and never leave the “house”. The powers that be have now created the “Distinguished Warfare Medal”! Isn’t that nice? They have now made a medal for the X-Box junkies flying the Pred. But wait, there’s more… They are also already earning Air Medals, without deploying. The same medal that I have five of, they are earning from the safety of some air conditioned box while sipping on their mocha-frapachino that they picked up on the way in to work that day, and waiting for Papa John’s to show up with lunch. They are not placing themselves in any danger what so ever, except maybe carpal tunnel syndrome. Pred gets shot down? Yeah that blows ‘cause they are expensive, but all told, the operator of said pred was never in danger.
As I thought about the whole kerfuffle, and wondered what the Pentagon was thinking, it brought to mind my favorite quote about the Infantry, from T.R. Fehrenbach:
In July, 1950, one news commentator rather plaintively remarked that warfare had not changed so much, after all. For some reason, ground troops still seemed to be necessary, in spite of the atom bomb. And oddly and unfortunately, to this gentleman, man still seemed to be an important ingredient in battle. Troops were still getting killed, in pain and fury and dust and filth. What happened to the widely-heralded pushbutton warfare where skilled, immaculate technicians who never suffered the misery and ignominy of basic training blew each other to kingdom come like gentlemen?
In this unconsciously plaintive cry lies the buried a great deal of the truth why the United States was almost defeated.
Nothing had happened to pushbutton warfare; its emergence was at hand. Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on Earth were at hand—at too many hands. But, pushbutton warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon, hopefully, will never be an end of national policy.
Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.
So, anyone out there want to defend this plan? Essentially every person I have talked to on this thinks that it should be moved down to the level of a MSM (Meritorious Service Medal.) But am open to hearing differing opinions. I just don't see it as being as prestigious as the Purple Heart, the CIB and other medals only earned by facing the enemy in direct combat.
UPDATE: From a friend of a friend, there is a petition on the White House to lower the precedence of the medal.
Lower the precedence of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal
The Pentagon is introducing a new medal to recognized the service of pilots of unmanned drones during combat operations. This medal will be placed in precedence order just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and just above a Bronze Star Medal. Bronze Stars are commonly awarded with a Valor device in recognition of a soldier's service in the heat of combat while on the ground in the theater of operation. Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground. This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned.
It's pretty much common sense, a medal for drone warfare should not be senior in ranking to medals that are earned by troops who are in harm’s way. It should not take precedence over the Purple Heart or Bronze Star as proposed by the DoD. While the medal – which could be earned for extraordinary service to the war effort by launching drones or cyber warfare attacks from places like Nellis AFB in Las Vegas or Tampa, Florida – is certainly worth considering – it should not rank higher than medals that often cost American lives to earn.