While the drone campaign is under attack on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon is taking action to recognize the achievements of our nation’s drone warriors.
These men and women have carried out some of the most important strikes in (what used to be called) the war on terror — taking out senior al Qaeda leaders and disrupting plots to strike the American homeland. Many of these strikes are carried out not from the battlefield, but from trailers in US military and intelligence facilities here at home. Problem is, if you’re not in a combat zone you’re not eligible for combat decorations.
Now the Washington Post reports that is about to change:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon is creating a medal that can be awarded to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations, but do it well away from any combat zone.
“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta said. “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”
The work they do “does contribute to the success of combat operations, particularly when they remove the enemy from the field of battle, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight,” he said.
The new blue, red, and white-ribboned Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to individuals for “extraordinary achievement” related to a military operation that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001. But unlike other combat medals, it does not require the recipient risk his or her life to get it.
Officials said the new medal will be the first combat-related award to be created since the Bronze Star in 1944.
Predictably, some are scoffing at the new award. The Washington Times reports:
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition urging the White House to lower the ranking of a new medal for drone pilots and cyberwarfare specialists that has drawn criticism for its ranking above the Bronze Star.
“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,” the petition posted on the White House website says.
The Washington Times first reported Friday that some warriors inside the Pentagon were questioning and mocking Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s decision last week to create the Distinguished Warfare Medal for cyber- and drone-combatants who sit inside stations outside a war zone.
“This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned,” the petition says of the Distinguished Warfare Medal.
It is hard to see how it is an injustice to those who served and risked their lives to recognize the important military achievements of those who serve in other ways.
Panetta has said he will stay in office until his successor is confirmed. In that case, let’s hope he sticks around to award a good many Distinguished Warfare Medals.