About that new “Distinguished Warfare Medal” for drone pilots

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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 unitsDire 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.

Posted in the burner | 79 comments
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Correction - I was actually referring to the National Defense Service Medal, not the Armed Forces Service Medal. My bad.

The Air Force has created many new medals after Viet Nam including AF Combat Action, AF Achievement, Aerial Achievement et al. If the AF wants to pin a medal on these cubicle jocks, they could surely be able to award an AF Commendation or Aerial achievement medal. All the aforementioned are below the Bronze Star and already exist. Actually, the AF Combat Readiness would be appropos. It ranks above the AF Good Conduct Medal.

Here's an idea: Rotate the wrist jockey puke over to the real war and bring a fellow soldier home to do his job for 6 mos to a year. Then, just maybe, they might be worthy of a combat equal medal. dumb asses. Just make sure you remind the joystick luber that there is no reset over in the real theater of combat and he will actually have to watch, up close and personal, the enemy take their last breath, confirm it, and then go to the next one. Versus shooting enemy from the sky, turn around and fly home, while sitting in your shorts and flip flops eating take out and sleeping in a real bed. If they were real men they would refuse to put this damn medal on their uniforms and if they do they should probably stay away from the real combat soldiers.

Why are you directing so much hatred at the crews? They had nothing to do with the creation of this medal.

But I guess it makes you feel better to simply be an a-hole to troops who are doing their jobs and actually making an impact on the war. BTW, guess what the most requested air asset is over the battlefield - it's the Remotely Piloted Aircraft.

What else could possibly go wrong with the current leadership? I never thought I would see the day were so many decisions are made without having a clue! I can just see a new award criteria for bus drivers that drop us off at the airport now!

BULL***********AGAIN BULL**************

I think a four day work week should be just fine
if this is all they have to work on

That'd be great, but too bad we're the most requested air asset on the battlefield, so we work 24/7, 365. Generally a 6 day work week, at 10 hours a day. And that's not counting all of our other duties.

This is an award that is entirely unnecessary. The system already has medals to honor those who perform noncombat service: the Meritorious Service Medal the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal. These have served for decades and cover any service not in direct combat. Let's keep it that way.

like everything that comes out of this administration this is bull****! their life has never been on the line! Seems like stupid is the new normal!


If it's awarded to me, I'll have no problems with WEARING it.

My father served in the Army in WW1. Very basic support of food and supplies, often living in pup tents. He had food poisoning twice; discharged as a PVT! My time was VN era, and I was not in combat but part of Army of Occupation. My son was in first Gulf, and left his family before Christmas 2012 for a year in Afghanistan. No matter how important a Drone may be to our arsenal and our troops on the ground, these folks sitting comfortably at "home" can get a "combat medal"?! With little sacrifice and no risk! They should get no more than the equivalent of Sharpshooter or Marksman badge/ribbon! As my son said when considering going for a commission, too much of the officer corps today is focused on covering their a** and playing political games to advance. Too many out of touch politicians! This is just the latest in their "great decisions"! Dumb!

This is a joke right? How in the world does a non-combatant controlling an unmanned aircraft
qualify for a medal that outweighs a bronze star? What idiot dreamed this mockery up? He or she should be taken out to a real combat situation and be shot by their own troops!

What makes you think we're non-combatants? We are members of the U.S. military, no different than the soldier on the ground. We do in fact deploy to combat zones, these aircraft don't take off by themselves. We learn the rules of war, LOAC, specific rules of engagement and we are lawful targets under the Geneva Conventions. In fact, we even dual qualify for both the M4 rifle and M9 pistol before deploying... so please, do me a favor and let the bad guys know that I'm not a combatant.

Here we go again. Lets belittle the ground pounder some more. Like the man said wars are won ON THE GROUND. Why a new medal? What is wrong with the Distinguished Service medal for this type of operation?

What is the most effective way to change the ideaology of a nation? Naturally, from within. Afterall, America will fight to the death for its freedom.Well, so history tells us. However, now we have to be concerned about the internal workings of a nation that use to believe in GOD and honor. Where once upon a time, Americans were proud to stand, fight and die for a country they not only believed in but a country which believed in them as well. So much for history, now they want to tear our foundation down and rebuild it with false images. Valor, courage, bravery, responsibilty, and sheer determinism use to be the call of the day for all our servicemen and women. THe military use to incorporate a sytem by where an individual was rewarded according to the deeds of their exploits and no greater service can be given to a country then one's life. Willing to give one's life is the ultimate sacrafice and all medals should have an heirachy which entails a level of progression that uses life and death as its criterion for honoring an indivual. The less risk of death the less value one's actions become and as such the less recogniion one should recieve, at least in the form of a medal., . Our soldiers who are on the front lines and in danger of forfietig their life everyday are the unsung hero's yet these same individuals do so without so much as a second thought. All that is about to change. The nation we once knew is rapidly becoming a nation whose armour has lost is shine. Where once medals were given for situtions which exeplified the character of our nation, now we see medals being forged out of indifferece and lack of respect for not only those that performed deeds without regard to personal peril but also to the country that awarded those metals. The Amerca I grew up in no longer exists. Our all knowing politician, as they would have us believe, claim they know our country's needs and are able to fulfill them . Unfortunatly, they have removed themselves from the opportuniy to feel the pulse of America and by doing so have began to chip away at the moral fiber which once pivoted our nation to a position that demanded respect. Now America's history is about to fofiet not only what it has taken hundreds of years to attain. but also the integrity of those individuals both living and dead, who made it possble for our country to attain such a status. So much for honoring our hero's. Now the title of hero can be claimed by individuals with no knowldege or understanding of what a medal awarded to those who were willing to give the ultimat sacrafice is all about.

What a crock! My father was in WWII with UDT7 and swam in to Saipan to clear the beach before the Marines landed and didn't get a medal. He and the rest of his team were just doing their job. And now you tell me that some clown, some rear echelon commando is going to be eligible for a medal that precedes the Bronze Star with V device! It used to be that if you saw someone wearing a Bronze Star you knew damn good and well it was for valor then they started giving them out just for being there and in charge of the underground mess kit repair company. I retired in 2010 after 28 years of service to our country in the Coast Guard, Army, and Navy Military Sealift Command and I'm no hero but I sure as hell know what one looks like and it ain't no joy stick jockey. If I was still on active duty I would be ashamed to wear that hunk of crap. That thing is going to cause a lot of off duty brawls. But maybe not. Real combat vets don't usually hang with those who aren't.

For the second time in my adult life I have been disappointed and ashamed in my country. Give the drone operators a ribbon for assisting in a theater of conflict that deserve to be recognized . The first time was when Pres.Obama was elected for a second term.

The idea behind the medal is great; however, it is highly over rated. It deserves little less than medal awarded for good conduct. Whose idea was this?......drone pilot!!

Fark this shyte. These Tyrants will burn in hell if there is one

The only thing I can add at this time is to ask if, and when, will my DSC be upgraded to the Medal of Honor? Cliff Totten…Missouri Valley, Iowa

@ Mark,

I have been deployed multiple times, not once during any of my engagements with the enemy have I ever reported contact, and with earnest said " get me UAV support now!!!". I have only ever asked for real support, that can change the course of and engagement, and the war with the ferocity needed. Only when those assets were already dedicated and I have ran out of HE, that I have been pushed a drone. And when they come on station they are usually met with a sarcastic " Yayayaya". Though I do support there recognition, because they do influence the war effort. And are a contributing asset, who's service inherently shapes the battlefield for successful missions. But those missions are conducted my grunts, and actual pilots. They are the ones who ultimately determine the success of a mission with their blood, sweat, and tears. Spend years away from their families, hoping that the phone call with their loved ones the night previous wasn't the last. There are fitting awards that would fit this type of recognition. MSM's would be an excellent choice, or it the impact was so immense, possibly the LOM. But this award by itself should never exist.

Robert K

I'm a sensor operator and I have been deployed multiple times as well, with another upcoming for this job that you're belittling. I've been in this job for less than 2 years and most of it has been TDY. I see what my efforts do for the fight on a daily basis. I can also tell you that nobody yells into the radio asking specifically for "UAV support". BTW, it's Remotely Piloted Aircraft or RPA, not UAV. they're calling for ANY support that happens to be in the area. Ten to one, we're probably on station nearby anyway, and even still, if we get pushed to support, we're the ones that can spend more than just a few hours circling overhead providing valuable video intel on what's going on around the battlefield. To say it's not "real support" because the pilot isn't on board the aircraft is simply foolish. It IS an actual rated pilot controlling the RPA, most of them have been pulled from other airframes such as fighters, bombers, tankers, cargo. We're also surrounded by more intel of what is going on than those guys in the air, so we have much more situational awareness. Not only are we watching our own video, we're watching the video feeds of other aircraft, which is something an airborne pilot doesn't have.

MSM? Really? We're not doing the same job as a SNCO who is retiring or PCSing, so why would we get the same medal? Same for the LOM, it's basically a PCS or retirement medal. This is a completely different type of warfare and it does deserve its own medal. The RPA community isn't pissed about infantrymen being awarded a CIB or being awarded any medal of valor that we'll never see. Why is there no rage over the Distinguished Service Medals for each branch that are awarded to General officers upon retirement? Those outrank not only the Bronze Star but also the Silver Star. Those medals aren't valor related but they outrank valor awards, yet nobody is complaining that those Generals earned it by sitting at a desk pushing paper.

This has be civilian brain storm OR some ASSHOLE non combat military person. Probably BOTH!! At least NEW Sec of Defense was pull a trigger. Dont need a new metal. Each service and DOD have a bunch of meritorious metals and sure some will do. If cant shot back it is meritorious!!!

Sure hope the legion takes this one. YEP-- DISAPPOINTED AGAIN

Archers were the subject of disdain during their inception in the medieval era. A lot of times they proved decisive in battles involving only swords/spear-men enemies.

History in the remaking?

So, if I can add my two cents, the folks that fired cruise missiles from ships in the Pacific Ocean are now eligible too, right? If a submarine off the coast of Australia pops up and shoots off a cruise missile they can get the award as well right? Are they able to get Veteran's Preference for Federal Jobs? Do they get the same benefits or higher priority than those that were in combat units and actually suffered wounds/injuries in combat zones? Heck, if I had known this, I would have volunteered to stay anywhere here in the US and use a drone to inflict damages. Does this mean that the Navy Personnel who fired into a combat zone from a ship or sub thousands of miles away, do they get this medal or one like it? What about the people that fired cruise missiles from the US? Do they get them as well? Do the Air Force Pilots that dropped cruise missiles get them too? Why don't we just have a website with a program where you can pilot a drone and drop a bomb and then if you can do it 2 out of 3 times, you get the drone award? I served in Desert Storm and in Afghanistan and had a Commander that I had a personality conflict with so I was not one of the Battery Commander's that got a bronze star, but maybe since I was in Artillery, and we were not on the actual front lines with the Infantry, don't we get them too? I did get one in Afghanistan, but since I was the Fires Chief for a couple of months, do I get the drone medal because I controlled all fires in the AOR including from the air. Heck, you could have sent the controls over to Afghanistan and I could have used it to win the war. Too bad it was back in the States where they never saw a shot fired in anger. REMF about covers it. Maybe we can all apply for the badge if we write enough letters to Wash D.C.? Boy, this medal would be one that Mom would sure be proud of, but my Dad who got his bronze star in Vietnam and my Grandfather who got his in WW I in France, might just roll over in their graves. Can I get one for them too? Give them a certificate of achievement, not a medal, and let's keep honor among the American Warfighters who actually go and fight our Nation's wars. Stop all the silliness and don't allow this medal to cheapen the ones actually earned in a combat zone. Don't degrade my medals that I earned.

Is this a Medal for ingrown hairs on the Buttocks? Maybe a Combat "V" for more than 10 ingrown hairs!


If it's made, a pair of winged thumbs would be more fitting. Similar to the "fickle finger of fate"
And it should rank up there with medals for hemorrhoids!


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.