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."