The new Distinguished Warfare Medal was created to honor “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other troops performing heroic deeds far away from combat zones. For their part, Pentagon officials have expressed continued commitment to honor drone operators, cyber warriors, and other significant non-battlefield contributors to US military campaigns. They want a place and a way to recognize the changing and ever-more technical face of warfare.
When, then Defense Secretary, Panetta created the award he observed that military drones and cyber systems “have changed the way wars are fought.” This point seems beyond debate; however, the medal’s ranking (in front of other medals where soldiers are putting their lives on the line), and the creation of the medal without following normal protocol is creating a good deal of debate.
Military medals are ranked in their order of importance. It is the ranking of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal that has drawn the most intense criticism from within the military, primarily for its ranking above the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. The new award is currently ranked directly ahead of the Soldier’s Medal, which is an award for bravery and voluntary risk of life not involving conflict with an armed enemy. And that ranking has also added fuel to the fire.
Some of the new medal’s more outspoken critics have even dubbed the medal the “Purple Butt.” Taking a swing at its ranking above the Purple Heart (awarded for being wounded in action), and making a statement that however important the work, it was likely earned while seated and under no real threat from the enemy.
I side with those who would lower the ranking of this new medal. I fully acknowledge the importance of what these new non-battlefield warriors are doing for our country. But it just doesn’t feel right to rank the medal ahead of those that are committing acts of valor in war zones and risking their lives every day by being there.
Current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has diplomatically tried to support the decision to create the medal (by his predecessor, Panetta). Hagel (a veteran and recipient of two Purple Hearts) recently announced a 30-day review period for the new medal to evaluate intense concerns and criticisms expressed by veterans groups and members of Congress. Over 65 members of Congress and about two dozen Senators have formally requested a change in the new medal’s ranking order.
Doug Sterner, a military honors expert and archivist for the Hall of Valor awards database, said the Defense Department went against protocol by not consulting with Congress before establishing a new award. “It’s almost as if they tried to slip this one in the back door,” Sterner said. “For a department that has been so quick to cite tradition on how they award medals, they went against it here.”
Fourteen of the top 16 military medals by order of precedence — including the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, and Bronze Star — all received Congressional approval prior to being established. The other two medals, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and Defense Superior Service Medal, were created through a presidential executive order. Neither of those paths were followed in the creation of the Distinguished Service Medal.
Here is the new medals proposed place in the current rankings of U.S. military medals:
1. Medal of Honor
2. Distinguished Service Cross
3. Defense Distinguished Service Medal
4. Distinguished Service Medal (Army)
5. Silver Star
6. Defense Superior Service Medal
7. Legion of Merit
8. Distinguished Flying Cross
9. Soldier’s Medal
10. Distinguished Warfare Medal
11. Bronze Star Medal
12. Purple Heart
13. Defense Meritorious Service Medal