Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal

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Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal

Meet Staff Sergeant Maurice Scott, a special operations Marine and a hero.  His heroism is of the variety one sees in TV and movies, but few ever get a chance to see in real life.  In September of 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott was serving as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Marine Special Operations Team 8133, Marine Special Operations Company Charlie, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, in Farah province, Afghanistan.

During a night helicopter raid into an insurgent stronghold on 6 September 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott employed supporting aircraft to great effect to disrupt activities and sever supply lines. Using aircraft sensors, he guided his unit to their security positions. As the sun rose, both security positions came under ruthless assault by enemy forces intent upon regaining their sanctuary. Coordinating bomb, rocket, and gun attacks from the aircraft overhead, Staff Sergeant Scott held off the enemy assaults while observing from an exposed position that sustained withering fire from the insurgents. With the adjacent element pinned down by mortar fire, Staff Sergeant Scott spotted and eliminated an insurgent cave position with the employment of a missile strike, enabling the element to regain security. Hours later the attack began again when insurgents fought at close range with hand grenades. Leaping to the wall he engaged the enemy with his weapon while directing aerial gun runs that were dangerously close to friendly forces. His bold actions broke the back of the assault, causing the enemy to break off their attack.

For his actions he was awarded the Bronze Star medal with “V” for valorous actions.

Scott is the kind of hero we’ve come to expect from our men and women singled out for their actions; humble and willing to share credit. 

“You can’t attribute the success of the mission to one individual,” Scott said. “Everyone is actively involved in the process. It represents the achievements of our team.”  Scott, a former Army Ranger, has served three deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.

The Bronze Star is awarded for either meritorious service or combat heroism. The bronze “V” is a combat distinguishing device for acts of combat heroism or valor.

“There was excellent leadership at the team level,” Scott said. “That’s what allowed us to perform with accuracy.”

The Bronze Star recipient, whose father was an Army lieutenant colonel, had a military upbringing and realized his own military career when he was 18.

What seems absurd though is that if any of the aerial fires mentioned in the citation were from drones, the pilot of that drone, (located somewhere within the US) will be retroactively eligible for a medal which outranks SSG Scott’s in order of precedence.

I received a Facebook message from a friend last night agreeing with what I had written yesterday, but noting that in some instances people seem to be denigrating the drone pilots (which he refers to as RPA or “Remotely Piloted Aircraft”) instead of targeting the award itself.  As he said:

First, I'm 100% in agreement it should be lower on the rack. I would put it just below the Aerial Achievement Medal. But that being said, some of the anger is being completely mis-directed at the RPA crews themselves. There is a misconception going around that if someone walked into one of the RPA pods it would resemble Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard [characters from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”] sitting around eating takeout on HALO night. Now, I'm not an RPA guy, my base accounted for the bulk of RPA combat enragements last year. I know these guys, and I assure they aren't the high school AV squad…. I also find it ironic that in expressing their anger about the precedent of a medal, so many ground ops guys are choosing to lambast guys who had surely didn't make the decision. That's because they are busy working six or seven days per week providing real-time reconnaissance and firepower to those same ground operators to keep them safe. And the misconception that these guys are sitting on the deck of the Starship Enterprise sipping mint juleps is nonsense.

 He makes a fair point that we should remember.  These guys do an absolutely invaluable service, and do it with the expertise we’ve come to expect from all the men and women of the military today.  So, when we complain about the order of precedence of the medal, we need to make abundantly clear that it isn’t the servicemembers we criticize, but rather an awards system that would place heroism without actual danger above that displayed by our people actually on the ground risking life and limb.

Today I took part in a “Bloggers Roundtable” discussion with the DoD about this medal.  I was the first person on the call, and I asked two questions.  Actually, I asked the same question twice, and didn’t get the response I hoped for either time.  I suspect I might not be invited back to their Roundtables.

My question was this:

What actions would warrant this medal that would be so above the criteria for a medal like an MSM?

The MSM, or “Meritorious Service Medal” is authorized for anyone “who, has distinguished himself or herself by outstanding meritorious achievement or service… while serving in a non-combat area [or]…for outstanding non-combat meritorious achievement or service in a non-combat or combat area.”

The new Distinguished Warfare Medal would be authorized “’extraordinary achievement’ directly tied to a combat operation but at a far remove from the actual battlefield.”  By way of example, the DoD cited these two possibilities:

"The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyber attack on a DOD computer system."

The lady hosting the phone call today, who works for the Office of Secretary of Defense, said that the DWM is higher in precedence, and is to honor a singular act of “heroism” (her word) that affected combat operations.

I still don’t see a distinction.  It seems the MSM could have been awarded to either of the two DWM examples, and it would have been appropriate.  Why create an award higher than the one that exists, which is even higher than the actions of those facing death, bodily injury etc?  Well, according to her, this was the unanimous recommendation of the service chiefs and service secretaries.


I find that difficult to believe.  You’re telling me every one of the service chiefs felt it was appropriate for a drone pilot to get an award higher than that of the JTAC on the ground (like SSG Scott) who was engaging in small arms fire, dodging grenades and coordinating fires?  I find that difficult to believe.

However, if you want unanimity of opinion, then look no further than the veterans organizations. 

The American Legion:

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, Fla. – is certainly worth considering – it should not rank higher than medals that often cost American lives to earn.


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.”

Military Order of the Purple Heart:

 “To rank what is basically an award for meritorious service higher than any award for heroism is degrading and insulting to every American combat soldier, airman, sailor or Marine who risks his or her life and endures the daily rigors of combat in a hostile environment,” the order said in a prepared statement.

The DoD conference call left me with no doubt that this medal was going through, regardless of what anyone thinks about it.  But you simply cannot convince me that no matter how great the service of these drone pilots, no matter how many lives each of them saves, that it is somehow more worthy of a medal than the actions of SSG Scott.  I thank God that we do have such experienced drone operators out there looking out for my ground pounding brothers, but I don’t see how their service (no matter how incredible and life saving) warrants something higher than a Meritorious Service Medal.


UPDATE: Reminder from Ed in the comments below, there is a petition you can sign to get this looked at by White House which you can sign AT THIS LINK.

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.

Posted in the burner | 284 comments
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My Father and I were both awarded Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts AND were in combat. I do not believe that a medal awarded that indicates "combat" (i.e. warfare), but does not require a real combat location should rank above the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart. I do believe that the pilots should be singled out if they deserve recognition. If these same pilots were later assigned to a combat theater and were wounded would most likely agree.

So much hatred directed at the RPA crews themselves. We're not the ones who created the award and it's not taking anything away from any other award. Look at all the medals for Generals when they PCS or retire that rank higher than Bronze and Silver Stars. Nobody is complaining about those. But here are crews that are actively fighting the fight, and all of a sudden we're the bad guys because the Gov't decided to create a medal specifically for us.

And to whoever said RPA crews get Air Medals, that's completely incorrect. We are not eligible for Air Medals or Distinguished Flying Crosses. The only medals awarded are Aerial Achievement Medals, which are a USAF-specific award. It isn't awarded by the other branches. This new medal is a DoD-level award.

I have no problem giving drone pilots the Bronze Star, but to put the "V" on it is a slap in the face to the guys who were on the front lines in harms way who actually earned it. My vote is No to this rediculous practice.


This is what happens when a bunch of liberial get in charge, and a group weak knee Chief of Staff are in charge of the military. We the voter have no one to blame but our selves.

This kind of action by non-military civilians and REMFs is exactly where the acronym FUBAR came from and still holds true today Fed Up Beyond All Recognition!!!!

This is bull$#@%. This is a person sitting in a nice soft chair in a warm or cool room. This is not like being in combat with someone shooting back at you. This is the dumbest ideal I have ever heard.

The point being missed here is that the "Current" Commander in Chief is doing all that he can to degrade our Armed Forces. Not only has he increased the stress on deployed military personnel but on their loved ones at home. (IE Budget cuts. mixed gender in combat roles and aboard submarines and now producing unnecessary friction between units).

May God help this once great country.

I have read all the posts on this page and as far as I am concerned these brave sevice members that put their lives on the line every day deserve the right to comment on this stupid idea. I think that an award of a set of wings or a Commendation or Achievement medal is plenty for those who serve from afar. There is no reason to scramble the current awards and make a special medal for this skill set that outweighs the blood and sweat of the hero on the groung fighting every day. Where has our honor gone that would let this happen?
My hat is off to all of those out there who have picked up the torch and proudly serve today.
"De Opresso Libre" SFC B

Really! This decision is intellectually bankrupt.

What a travesty. It's a real shame that our military leaders would put a skill set above personal integrity and bravery.

If we are to accept this logic, then those person launching missiles, on ships or otherwise, should also receive this metal. Why not the persons that load the missiles , etc, to be launch! Well not that I think about it, you can not guide the drones without software, should the developers of the software receive a metal? Yea! Everyone including civilians should receive this metal!

Being fortunate serving stateside in the Army during the Viet Nam era I did not receive a combat medal. If these morons would have been in command then I might have been honored for playing PAC-MAN or DONKEY-KONG . It's a slap in the face to every combat veteran.

If the people making these kind of decisions had dyamite for brains they couldn't blow their nose!!

This award needs specific criteria, 100 missions or 300 hours, and if awarded should fall above the Achievement Medal and below the Commendation Medal. It should be viewed as an award not a decoration. this is , of course, a common sense approach that even Ray charles could see. It is interesting that the Cold War Service Medal has not yet been pushed through after 20+ years. I guess there is hope that all the eligible people will be dead by the time they approve it. I fear that this new award is just another scheme in the political divide and conquer view of things. Valor is close and personal in the direct face of danger, not a distant thing. Placing this drone medal above a decoration for valor is a disgrace. The senior leadership has lost perspective and concern for those who serve directly in harms way.

Who is the idiot that made this decision?

I am an Old Nam Vet. I know that times have changed in the Military. BUT NO NO NO These Drone Medals to be higher than a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. I say again NO NO NO!!!!!

If the current administration wants a medal for these support staff, fine but it should not be rated above actual Valor and Bravery Medals like the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. This is a slap in the face of anyone in actual combat and Earned these medals in Combat situations. USN 65-71, VVA,DAV, Life Member, American Legion.

I was wounded on my 1st tour of duty in Nam, blown up by land mine in an m-113 track, that steel
hinge on my spine breaking my fall add insult to injury an AK round through the side while in the air.
All I got was a LOWLY PURPLE HEART. Ridiculous isn't it?

This is a stupid idea. It must have been hatched in D.C. Give them their own ribbon, but not higher than the MSM.

Let's cut to the chase, no candy coating this one, we have a bunch of non-military, do nothing, civilians calling the shots at DOD. These people are walking morons and have no idea what a combat zone looks or feels like. Somewhere there is a favor being doled out to some "wannabe" pilot. I was a military pilot and would refuse this medal on principle and respect for my fellow soldiers. I support the idea of a medal for great accomplishments, above and beyond the norm, but to rank this medal above the Bronze Star is an insult and diminishes the integrity bestowed on these exceptional individuals, who could have been shot dead in a instant by a bullet, not by falling off a chair in the USA. By the way, are we going to provide a civilian version for the lawyer that's really calling the shots, "green light" stationed behind the drone pilot. Our Country is in serious trouble, it appears we didn't learn crap from the way we fought the Vietnam War. No wonder we continue to loose.

This is redundant, in that this is a common response by combat vets, but a medal for push-button warfare rated higher than face-to-face combat heroism? WTF?

What next, a purple heart for getting hit with a spitball from the guy in the cubicle down the aisle?

This is the most unneccessary and undeserved medal ever conceived.

Who's the piss ant that brought this up. The key word is Valor That's VALOR............ Oh shit I'm out of coffee will never be proof of Valor.Who ever thought this one up needs their dick knocked in the dirt and learn what the word VALOR means. End of comment.

After being in combat in ROK and RVN and being shot at and hit, I think that I am in some other country. The United States Military today has some of the best young people that this country has ever produced. This so called medal is an example of the same people that brought us women in the combat arms. Boots on the ground prove more than those that have signed off on this. It is a travesty being placed on all of those who have fought on the ground. But more so on those who have died in armed combat.

We can trace this misguided policy right back to the USAF in the 1980's and Gen. McPeak's decision that all Airman would have a AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code or MOS) Function Badge to wear with all of their uniforms. When we asked at a wing king call what the basis was for doing so, we were told the following by (then) Base Commander Col. Nelson H. Luvgren and Wing CC/OG Col David B. Dingee: Apparently an administrative support type complained it was "unfair" ATC types, aircrew, snakeaters like CCT's, TACP, Para Weather, PJ's, EOD, etc., had specialty badges and the rest of the USAF didn't. Soooo, Gen. McPeak decided, along with eliminating all of our AFR's at the time, to implement new function badges for all. Yeah. We were impresssed. Rah Rah. I refused to wear it for the duration of my 24 years unless in Class-A's. That, folks, is why you now have RPA's with a medal higher that that worn by those on the deck, in the midst of the shooting match. Should RPA's be rewarded for a job well done? To an extent. What's wrong with an Achievement or Commendation medal? That's what I, and many of us, got for combat support ops. That's what RPA's are. COMBAT SUPPORT. Period. We didn't rate anything akin to the Bronze Star, nor should we have. And neither should the RPA, because the RPA is not facing an imminent threat to their own personal saftey, nor are they personally trading shots with the enemy. That's what RPA's are. COMBAT SUPPORT. Period. What's next, handing out MOH's and Bronze Stars like candy? Oh, wait a minute... We're already there.

The people who came up with this idea have cow manure in their heads!!!

Let's get our priorities straight!!! How does a drone pilot trump that of a human on the ground???? Our forefathers are probably turning over in their graves! Come on, leaders, make it right!

I will put this topic in the same class as awarding citizenship to "illegals"....You have to damn well earn it, !!!
otherwise it will not be appreciated

I have heard of some really stupid things in my life and as a Marine,but to place this award above the Bronze Star with a "V" for VALOR is "TOTALLY STUPID",the people who approved this are "SOME TOTAL IDIOTS",don't get me wrong drone operators are important for troops who are actually on ground and do need some help,"BUT GIVE THEM AND ME A BREAK" the next thing you know these "IDIOTS" will push for this type of medal to be equal to the "MEDAL OF HONOR",it sounds like a bunch of politicians with "NO" combat experience EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Having served in both Viet Nam and Desert Storm with marine infantry units I feel this is a slap in the face of all who served in actual combat. Another instance of Officers patting themselves on the back and wanting another dodad to show off at the club. Just look at all the ribbons on the generals and admirals as see how many were for valor, and how many were for "Im great and it shows."

The drone pilot does a valuable service and his actions while piloting the drone could have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a battle. His actions from a remote site may even save the lives of our US servicemen on the ground. However, is the drone pilot ever in harms way like the ground troop? I don't think so. That is why the Bronze Star or Purple Heart should always rank higher. Remember, a Purple Heart is also awarded to a soldier, Airman or Sailor who gives the ultimate sacrifice during combat for his country.

The whole idea stinks. A true injustice to those who truly put their life on the line!

The "medal" should be a "ribbon only" award at best and a good bit lower in rank to a PH

Thumbs up to the drone pilots. A lot of fighting soldiers owe their lives to them. Thumbs down to those paper pushers who have never loaded a dead friend or one with a limb blown off and their blood all over you onto a chopper or a medical truck. If this administration keeps this crap up, look out. The second American Revolution? Who's side is the majority of Americans and our combat troops going to be on?

Like most everyone else, I believe this new medal, earned far from the field of battle, should not take precedence over the Bronze Star with Valor.

I have read the memo concerning the issuance of the DSW Award but I couldn't find anything concerning being able to send the Pentagon my Bronze Star and Purple Hearts. Neither did I see a timetable concerning when I could throw them over the fence of the White House like our esteemed new Secretary of State and when he would be able to personally attend the ceremony.

What next for this country and the men and women who have shed blood on foreign shores in defense of America? This could have been accomplished with a badge just as pilots receive.

The matter could be settled by having Drone operators stand on pricinple and refuse to accept this insulting award. News of that action would embarrass the DoD and force them to rethink the presetation and precedence of this award.

It will be interesting to see what happens when recipients of the new medal meet individuals who have the Bronze Star and/or Purple Heart.

As a Viet Nam vet and a Bronze Star recipient, I feel that it is totally ridiculous to give a video gamer a medal that has more significance than a medal received by someone "in harms way" How can any medal awarded for valor have a lower priority than a service medal? While I acknowledge the contributions of the drone fleet, thism idea of awarding a medal of significane to an "arm chair warrior" who goes home to wife and family each night, versus the soldier/Marine "laying it on the line" daily, is total crap. Seems it is an effort to make the drone pilots feel better about their lack of opportunity to be in the fight.

That's what happens when you get politicians who have no idea what the hell is going on. Drone Medal should be below Good Conduct. Armchair flyers for armchair politicians!!

No way this should happen ! They DO NOT put their lives on the line to fly This should fall Three steps under the good conduct Medal. NO NO NO

I echo all of the comments from the veterans that can't believe the stupidity of the current administration for placing this medal above a bronze star. I would like to appologize to all those bronze star recipients that put boots on the ground and their personal safety at risk for this stupidity. This administration continues to show their ignorance of the risks that military personnel take when they are on the ground in a hazardous duty area.

Recognition: Yes
High ranking medal: NO

Drone pilots are serving our country and I appreciate their service. However, to consider their action to qualify for a combat medal ranking higher than Bronze or Purple Heart would be a slap in the face to those who have earned their medals for actual bravery in combat.

They should be recognized for their service, but let's get our priorties straight, and NOT place them on a level with combat troops in the line of fire.

Did every FAO (Forward Air Observer) in Vietnam and elsewhere receive a Bronze Star or any medal for that matter? The answer is no. FAO's were the forerunners of drones. FAO's were humans capable of experiencing pain and realizing discomfort and fear while still accomplishing their mission. Drone pilots possess a measure of skill and should be recognized for that. Navy carrier pilots have spectacular skill to land on a carrier deck. Did they all receive medals. That answer is also no. To consider awarding any medal is questionable. To rank such a consideration above the bronze star is preposterous.

If one of these guys chokes on a chicken bone while sitting at his/her console, will his/her mother be allowed to display a gold star in her window?

I can not believe what is happening in the Obama term....

The Pentagon is a pit of politicians, no way in hell this new medal should be above the bronze star or any other medal given for valor or direct enemy contact such as the purple heart. We don’t have military thinkers anymore. The Navy built a new multi-million dollar EM clubhouse here on NAS Jax, Florida. They allowed for a separate room for about 40 chief’s, but it’s open only two days a week. The entire club is closed on holidays, and on normal weekdays it doesn’t open until 1600. I am told that one drinking incident these days will get a young troop kicked out of service. If they keep this crap up the only soldier you’ll find is those that fight with marshmallows, from a distance. This PC crap has screwed our military to the wall.



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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.