By Debbie Gregory.
How do you judge the service of a soldier, sailor, marine or airman? Many would say look at his or her medals. Rows of service members’ ribbons and medals are looked at for both quality and quantity. Military medals and service ribbons are badges of honor that service members wear to show the world, “This is where I have been and THIS is what I have done.” Currently, there are political debates around the Capitol and the military/Veteran communities about the current and future state of military medals.
In February, 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled his plan to institute the Distinguished Warfare Medal, designed to honor the service of drone pilots and cyber warfare operators. Panetta’s medal drew harsh criticism from all sides, mainly because it would have ranked higher than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, medals received for direct combat, as well as various other combat related expeditionary and campaign medals. The short-lived Distinguished Warfare Medal was discontinued on April 15, 2013.
Many groups believe that putting one’s self at personal risk of death or serious bodily injury should rank higher than recognition for combat excellence for completing combat missions from miles or even continents away from the threat of injury or death. This line of thinking can easily be defended. Going above the call of duty takes on a whole new meaning when one’s life is at stake.
But there are multiple groups, politicians and even military leaders who have made unsettling comments in defense of direct-combat related medals. Many have likened cyber warriors and drone pilots to nothing more than video gamers.
Downplaying another’s service in no way elevates another. Operators of the new technologies utilized by today’s military are the same men and women who volunteer, train and sacrifice in order to call themselves members of the United States Military. Their service needs to be recognized, because their efforts are crucial to the lives and assets in forward deployed locations. Regardless of their physical location, their work saves lives and prevents death or injury to other service members… and THAT is medal worthy.
Where the Defense Department chooses to place that recognition in the hierarchy of achievements is still up for debate. When current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assumed his position last year, he said that he intended to attach the recognition to existing medals. Other proposed plans have included reinstating the Distinguished Warfare Medal, but ranking it below the Purple Heart in the order of precedence.
No official determination is expected in the matter until late 2014 or early 2015.