March 12th, 2013
12:15 PM ET

Hagel ordering review of new drone medal ranking

By Jennifer Rizzo and Kevin Liptak

In an about-face, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has decided to review the criteria of a recently created "drone award" that ranked achievements in related warfare and other modern combat skills above the most noted recognition for bravery on the battlefield.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal, which was approved last month by Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, recognizes "extraordinary direct impacts on combat operations." But the honor denotes that the action is not bound by a "geographic limitation," meaning drone operators could be eligible.

Some lawmakers expressed concern the medal would be placed above those for battlefield valor, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said production of the medal had been halted so Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey can conduct the review. He is expected to present his findings in 30 days.

"Secretary Hagel consulted with the chairman, the joint chiefs, and the service secretaries, and knows the decision to establish the medal was carefully and thoroughly analyzed within the Department of Defense," Little said at a media briefing.

"That being said, in light of concerns about the medal's place within the order of precedence, the secretary will work with the senior leadership to review the order of precedence and associated matters," he added.

Little said Panetta, who originally approved the award, had been advised of the review, but that he wasn't sure if he and Hagel had spoken directly.
Panetta retired last month after serving as Pentagon chief since 2011.

Earlier Tuesday, Oklahoma's James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN that he was informed by the Pentagon on Monday night about the decision to review the medal.

Hagel had supported the award in a letter to other senators this week, saying it was intended to recognize "extraordinary achievement" in acts not involving valor but "directly impacting combat operations and as a result saving lives on the battlefield."

Hagel wrote "it should not be viewed as detracting from previously created medals, especially the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart."

Inhofe and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, reached out to Hagel to express their thoughts.

Little said Hagel, a recipient of two Purple Hearts while a soldier in Vietnam, "believes it's prudent to take into account those concerns."

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soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. steve

    lol this is the most rediculous thing ive ever heard. they should it the internet tough guy award cause that is what it really is. im going to submit my soldier for one cause he valorously defended the good name of the us army in a facebook status update

    April 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  2. George

    @GunnerGA, there are awards for guys sitting behind a desk in the states going home to their families every night or day and eating good meals and having clean latrines and showers and a comfortable bed...They are called impact awards and they already exist; Achievement medals and Commendation medals and each service has their own. In fact there are even Joint Service ACH & COM medals. So no you do not deserve some special or equal recognition that some one on the battlefield or flying over the battlefield putting them selves in harms way would EARN... If they earn such an award they were obviously in close contact with enemy combatants. I personally would feel ashamed to receive some special award for an engagement that a soldier was killed or injured in while I was sitting at a desk, but that is the new mentality, looking for a hand out.

    March 16, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Reply
  3. Concerned Citizen of Earth

    If a drone gets captured, does the pilot now become eligible for the POW Medal, or is a Virtual POW Medal in the works???
    Also If a drone gets shot down does the pilot feel pain and get a Purple Heart, or is there going to be another medal with a corresponding color? You got the PURPLE Heart, BRONZE Star, SILVER Star and coming soon the BLUE Screen of Merit...

    March 14, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  4. Holly

    A marksmanship medal or something like that, fine. However, they aren't putting their lives on the line so they don't deserve an equal medal. As for the comment about the emotional toll it takes. The possibility of having to take another's life is a given when you join the military. The medal is wrong.

    March 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  5. Jaimie

    Our soldiers on the front lines deserve the highest medals, not someone in a building half a world away flying drones. They are not putting their life on the line at all. The front line soldiers are.

    March 13, 2013 at 1:22 am | Reply
  6. TT

    This should not have a higher value than any received in actual combat. But maybe the solution is to only let them have it when playing Second Life.

    March 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  7. conniesz

    Nothing should take higher precedence than action requireing you to put your life on the line. That's a pretty simple concept really – no matter how good you are or how much you do/did for the cause if you didn't wage your life on the outcome you didn't risk as much as the ones who did.

    March 12, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  8. Carl E Chiles

    How can this medal be awarded to someone in a room in Baltimore even as we have artillery and mortar platoons that do have a direct military effect of a combat situation? Artillery's doing their job..mortar crews doing their job and someone not exposed to danger could get a medal for affecting the outcome of the war..we have too many medals now for too many made-up excuses for handing them out..show me some courage and I will get on board..otherwise stay back with the women and children out of harm's way..

    March 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  9. GunnerGA

    Paul, if you are the one pulling the trigger, you are NOT in a support role. The troops guiding you to your target are the ones doing the support. YOU are the weapon. And it is not much different that a pilot dropping a laser guided bomb. If the pilots can be recognized when there is little to no risk of attack from the ground to their safety, then why not a pilot who is simply further away? We are rewarding the accomplishment of the military objective by the individual... not the manner of reaching the objective.

    March 12, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • conniesz

      Except the pilot can be shot out of the sky – hence the pilot is actually risking their life.

      March 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Bill

      Planes have real people in them and they do get shot down with loss of life !

      March 12, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Reply
  10. GunnerGA

    Why not? They contribute to the war effort as much if not more than those in the field. Why should those who actually get hit or killed receive medals when those fortunate enough to stay alive do not? The goal is to achieve our military aims – not simply take the risk of injury or death in the field. If a drone operator on the other side of the planet succeeds in his mission, he should be rewarded. They know this isn't a video game and the deaths are real.... so the emotional impact is no different than being closer to the victim. Does it a job that garners fear? No. Nor is there risk to physical injury. But emotional injury is no different. Killing is killing and those involved in this dirty business needs to have access to the acknowledgements of service.

    March 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    • George

      Why Not? Because there are awards that already exist; Achievement and Commendation Medals, that every other soldier receives for their support (but actually in harms way). So just take your impact award and go home to your family every night

      March 16, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Reply
  11. DC Observer

    A specialist flying drones from Gill Air base in Las Vegas was on break and thought he was playing a video game at his console and accidently took out the Egyptian pyramids with a few drone missles -- Oops

    March 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  12. Bob

    Give them a "Virtual" medal that can only be seen on a computer screen.

    March 12, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  13. RetiredVet

    Well said Paul Jones.

    March 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  14. Paul Jones

    Supporting Combat operations is very different from being in combat.

    March 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Reply

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