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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In 68 I was nominated for the bronze Star in Viet Nam. It never came through and no one followed u[ on it. For quite a few years wished it had, because to me what transpired that day was a very important day in my life. I have since seen the Bronze star given out for what I often believe are questionable actions. This is the last straw. I am now glad I didn't receive it because I know what i did and that is enough. This just degrades the medal to the point that I don't care any more.

I am a Vietnam War Veteran. I think we have enough medals now. Without danger to one's self, how can there be valor? There is no doubt that the drone pilots are making a significant contribution to the war effort, but to rate that effort above those who win the Bronze Star for Valor is shameful.

No way that a thumb pusher's medal should be rated higher than one that recognizes a person's valor. Besides, if a commander feels that game player deserves a medal, they already have a medal that I feel is appropriate - The Army Commendation Medal. I am a Vietnam vet and was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for doing crater analysis out in the rice paddies while under fire.

Commendation Medals are typically awarded to NCOs upon PCS, retirement, or separation. The job the RPA crews are doing merits far more than a simple Commendation Medal. It's definitely above the level as some SSgt who spent a tour folding towels in the gym.

I do believe there should be recognition for drone pilots, like a special skill badge, and maybe even this special award, dedicated to them, they are making major contributions to the war effort; but not in the order of precedence where this has been placed. They do not face the risks as others in the theater of operations, who are physically in harm's way.

I give cudos to the Drone Pilots and appreciate their advanced skills. They certainly should be rewarded for "service beyond call of duty"; however, not above the awards for direct combat where their own lives are in jeopardy.

I am a Viet Nam combat Veteran with a few medals and a life member of AL,VFW, and DAV. I do not agree with with this medal being so high in the system of merits of heroism.

Hell I just dont know anymore... It is a ever changing world with ever changing battle fields... We all know drones, their pilots and the operators behind the pilots make a huge difference in the way warfare is conducted in a successful manner... I feel it is the medal and its place amongst the ground forces medals is where the problem lies... not to belay my Navy brothers, their ships and their service in time of war, but i think these pilots/support teams need to follow this path... Have the groups be honored with battle flags and other honors that directly reflect their efforts in the cause they so deserve... I see that these operators and teams, like a ship of mates, all to be honored but to understand that individual honor, sacrifice, and plain guts under fire is not what they went through... Ya just cant give them a CIB, bronze star or CMH to a guy who goes home after 8, works in a air conditioned office, and eats 3 hot meals a day not risking anything but a toy, in essence...

I myself do not think that a drone pilot deserves a medal ranked higher than the bronze star. They are not on the front lines and really do not put their lives on the line like our foot soldier, pilots, and sailors do every day to protect our country and country.

The thought of a Drone Pilot being worthy of a medal of a higher rank than those earned in close up combat is apalling to say the least. While this new era of technology is excellent and certainly necessary in today's world, its' operator is essentially a person with great skills in computer guidance which is similar to a marksman, except he makes his perfect shot from thousands of miles away. Does the person that pushes a button to launch a missile with a predetermined target receive a medal for the accuracy of the device. No. Should the operator of an unmanned vehicle receive awards for accuracy of their devices. Yes as they require much more than just pushing the launch button. However, technically they are just people using a glorified Joy Stick to guide their device to accomplish the mission. They are not in anyway, shape or form in danger of being killed. Think of it. If the drone Pilot in Neveda, would suffer a heart attack would he be considered killed in action??? Would he then be qualified for the Medal of Honor? Come on folks let us use common sense, recognize our people for the skills they have. Are they Hero's? That is in the mind of the perciever for me, every man and women that is serving, or has served in the Military Service of our Country are "Hero's" for they have written that check to Uncle Sam for up to and including their life, they will go where they are told and they will do what is asked of them and then some. We Veterans know that all give some and some give all. Handle decorations properly. Drone Pilots should be recognized for their skill and accuracy no doubt about it. But the award should be commensurate with that skill and accuracy, not embellished by it.

It's nothing but PC. In school everyone gets trophies and awards for participation rather than keep score and accept the fact there are winners and losers. Now they're in the military and everyone should get recognized for participating. A few years ago they invented several new ribbons like the overseas ribbon, now a new medal.

I worked with drones during the Vietnam War flying from Bien Hoa RVN and U-Tapao, Thailand. In those days it was trying to outfly Migs chasing them on reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam and China. The drone "pilots" were in the DC-130 launch aircraft over the Tonkin Gulf or Laos in order to maintain contact with the drone during it's mission. Many drones came back with lots of holes from Migs or SAM attacks. There were no special "medals" in those days for drone pilots. I cannot understand why the service chiefs would allow a special award to be placed above the Bronze Star or Purple Heart other than to hope this action would help in their OERs from the politicians above them. It would be nice to see leadership for the military again.

I am a Viet Nam Era veteran. I never left the continental US, so I'm not a Viet Nam vet. I worked 12 hour days 7 days a week training flight crews for combat. I did this by keeping aircraft at full readiness so they could acquire the skills to do their mission. I also trained other techs to do the same job in war zones on aircraft carriers. Because they floated of the shore of Viet Nam after I trained them, they wqualified for medals and benefits I never got. I served my country. I recieved no recognition for my work and because I didn't do it in a war zone I was denied benefits at a VA hospital. Does that seem fair, I think not, but life is not fair. My son-in-law is a drone pilot. Before that he flew f16's, but they needed drone pilots so he followed orders and became a drone pilot. I know what he had to go through for 6 years. They even did a segment on CNN about him. There is a great mental strain to sit in a little shack in the Nevada desert supporting the combat troops. They pull the trigger on men from afar, get in their cars, and go home to dinner with the family. The combat soldier lives it 24/7 and his head is in the combat mode while he is in country. The drone pilot is killing people during his work period and changing diapers at home. Is it easy to leave the horror of war and go home at night and then return to it day after day? I think not. Does it deserve this scale of recognition, again I think not. They do deserve recognition for their service, yes, but not to the level of placing it above a Bronze star, NO. When I am around combat vets I feel embarrassed to admit I never was in country, but really I shouldn't haqve too. I served my country according to what I was told to do to do my part in the war effort. Someone had to do it, but those of us who didn't have to rish our ass shouldn't be denied the same benefits for our service either. The pilot who flies the drone is a commissioned officer and he is the man or woman who is entrusted with the decision making to pull the plug on some people's lives. He or she sees the result of their decisions then goes home at night, that doesn't lessen the psychological pressures of war, but at the same time it doesn't place them at bodily risk. Just their sanity. All of us who have or still do serve our country have different reasons for doing so. Some out of duty, some to pursue recognition, some just to get an education, and so many other reasons we'll never even know. But we all deserve the same benefits and recognition for our basic service and medals are meant for the above the call of duty types that have excelled in the field or saving of lives. The techs that make the weapons of war efficient so that others can depend on them in the field are noteworthy but never recognized. But medals are and always have been reserved for the heroes that use them to glorify war and save their comrades.

Oh heaven forbid that SNCO;s were ever given control of a drone. I'm sure a Commissioned Offices must be the only ones who could possibly fly these with any skill on a mission. GIMME A BREAK most of the time the people who set up this type of equipment or do the testing with it are SNCO Tech's or NCO's under their supervision. Remember WWII when we had quite a few SNCO's flying the DC-3's? A college degree doesn't always make the individual qualified over one who doesn't have it. For the record, I am not a disgruntled enlisted man just making a point.

The reasoning for the requirement to be a commissioned officer has to do with the Geneva Conventions, or so I've been told.
Also, the degree doesn't make you smarter, but it does show that you're capable of learning advanced things like operating an aircraft. Today's aircraft aren't simple stick and rudder like those of yesteryear. Even the RPAs are complex machines that require a lot of training. As the enlisted Sensor Operator on the MQ-1 sitting alongside the pilot, I can tell you that they don't have it easy.

More specific on the reasoning: Must be an officer because they make decisions independent of a commander's control, due to distance and communications limitations.

For MQ-1s and MQ-9s, it's the officer who pulls the trigger to fire the missile.

While these awardees may deserve recognition for service excellence, they do not put their life on the line. This award should be like any other unit/personal excellence citation and should not be equal to or above the Purple Heart in ranking of importance.

I guess I should just give back all of the combat pay that I earned for deploying to Afghanistan then. These aircraft aren't controlled entirely from stateside bases - crews in country do the takeoff/landing portion.

Placing that award higher than the metal of Valor may be a mistake. Yes they do deserve recognition but of a different level as they are not in harms way while doing their respective assignments. I believe there should not be that equalization for the memories of those who suffered before the comfort of an office became common place.

I think the pilots of unmanned drones deserve recognition for any distinguished or unusual operation of under their direct control that absolutely saved the lives of a large group of troops & equipment from harm by their flight management skills. I do not think any award they might be due should rank higher than the Bronze Star by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet the Bronze Star is already diluted by being awarded for meritorious service in a combat zone, which makes it a non-valor award as well. It's typically awarded to field grade officers upon completion of a deployment. The Army even awarded a couple of them to a pair of Air Force Technical Sergeants who work in Fincance. At least the RPA crews are actually firing weapons at the enemy.

Let me try to get this straight. Drone pilots sitting in the United States getting a combat medal. That being the case, they should also get a Bronze Star for heroic meritorious service while engaged in combat against an enemy while serving in combat, Purple Heart should they get a paper cut while on duty, National Defense ribbon and the list could go on. Just for sitting in the US and more or less playing a computer game. Way to go Department of Defense, you once again showed how smart you are, maybe the DoD budget cuts will not be to bad after all if they cut people making decisions like this, and I'm sure there are a lot.

Another case of everybody gets a trophy. I thought that would stop after grade school. The medal should be ranked with the Good Conduct Medal. Do your JOB and everyone gets one. This new medal
berates the Silver and Bronze star. I would be ashamed to wear it.

What are they smoking? No way!

Everyone in combat should be rewarded, however RIMF's should not get medals that are higher than front liner's. They are the one's in harms way.rhdpc

Two problems with this medal; 1) It is inappropriately named. If the goal is to honor Drone Pilots for exeplerary service on 25 or more combat related missions, It should be named the "Drone Pilot Medal" or somthing similar that does not indicate combat or warefare, and 2) it should be ranked as many others have suggested - below a Bronze Star, perhaps about the same as an outstanding unit award..

I beleive it should be made as a badge, like Air Crew or Parachutist, somewhat along those lines.
The Drone Pilot is a job not an act of heroizim and should be treated as such.

I surely question the awarding of this "Medal" for unheroic action! If the government want's to award this medal for non-combact action, purly for a special assignment and outstanding service. Then I believe that I, and thousands of others, would qualify for this recognition of duty above and beyond the norm. As a Hospital Corpsman I was kept stateside for my expertise and educational skills. Transfers were stopped by our chief of service, a doctor with the rank of Capt. As Urology Tech. I took X-rays, assisted in clinic, assisted in minor and major surgries. When on call I would at times do proceedures that only a MD would be allowed to do in the real world. This of course was done within the hospital setting with all the best equipment. What about those who are in the field and must make do with what is on hand. Is flying a Drone in an aircondition room with nice chairs and the state of the art equipment as significant and honorable as relieving pain, assisting others to a better life and hearing that "Thank's Doc". Or is the "killing " of others more important! War denotes killing of others if neccessary, however, killing does not mean whole sale slaughter of possible inocent people. How can there be "Heroism" if you don't confront the enimy! Do they put their life on the line??? Too bad our leaders spend their time in an office, away from the real world!!!

I am not to discount any military member and the valor they show, but exactly how is a drone pilot in ANY danger on ANY mission they do???? I mean really, so a buddy, or medic that risks their life to pull me to safety is now less meaningful than someone flying a radio controlled fighter, where they are sitting in a building in Montana, but my buddy or the medic is in the midst of the bullets. I agree, where both may save lifes, where exactly is the risk to the UAV pilot? One more progressive way to pull military personal to their side so when they coupe of this Republic takes place they will have people on thier side willing to follow unlawful orders and violate the constitution. Personally, I would never accept such a medel, and for those about to blast me, while you are doing so, explain EXACTLY any risk you take during your flying of the remote controlled plane.

Thanks to the Legion and other groups for helping move this medal down the ranking list.Only inexperienced would deem it worthy of higher ranking.Keep it real!!

Congratulations to DoD...They have created the Chairborne Warriors Award. This decoration should not even rank the BSM awarded for Meritorious Achievement...That award at least requires the recipent to have performed his service in a hostile environment...Then again perhaps the Chairborne Warrior was operating from the Pentagon. Dave Arensdorf, Major Retired

I can't add any more to what has already been said. I think this is a true disgrace to those that have served and have given so much for this country.

The creation of an award for an extremely small group of military, cries out for like recognition for other small groups. How about a similar award for truck drivers, bus drivers, tug drivers, cooks, bakers and the Military police? Based on the justification for the "Distinguished Warfare Medal " there could be another 8 or 10 new awards! The point is that NO new award is justified, particularly for a specific group. The award for doing a good job has for many years been the Army Commendation Medal. Based on the actions required of drone jockeys I would submit that the ARCOM is very appropriate for those that don't fall asleep while at the "stick". To create an award that has higher precedence/esteem than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart would, in my mind, dictate high combat risk. Sitting in an air conditioned suite thousands of miles or even a hundred miles from the the combat zone does not in any way place the jockey in a highly dangerous combat position; for which high self sacrifice is expected. For me it is a particularly sensitive issue in that I was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star for actions in Vietnam. I flew the only manned drone type airplane, so far ever used in combat. In fact, I wrote a letter to Congress several years ago and recommended that the "Quiet Airplane" be sent to Iraq. The response I received was that the Army said they are using "drones" for that mission!!!!! There is NO way the current drones can perform the mission we performed in the Quiet Airplane.
Bottom line: it looks like Hagel is being pushed by both political parties in the Senate to make some changes or else.
God Bless America
Maj. AB ( USA Ret..)


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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.