Drone Warfare Medal: Critics Are Getting it All Wrong

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new medal, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, to recognize individual acts having a direct impact on combat operations from locations other than the immediate battlefield. It is meant to recognize exceptional meritorious achievement by individuals performing high tech combat operations of the 21 century such as drone and cyber attacks.

Because the medal is placed higher than the Purple Heart and Bronze Star on the military’s order of precedence, veteran’s groups are criticizing it. They say placing a medal that is earned without putting ones' life on the line directly on the battlefield above the Purple Heart and Bronze Star is an insult to those who serve in open warfare and to those who have earned either one or both of these medals. This criticism is misplaced. It does not mention the higher ranking of three medals that do not require direct combat involvement, does not fully define the Bronze Star which may be given for actions not involving direct combat and to those not located on the battlefield, and fails to acknowledge the changing nature of combat.

It is understandable that the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Veterans of Foreign Wars are upset over the new medal’s placement. Their criticism would have merit if they addressed the order of precedence in its entirety. 

From highest to lowest, the medal order of precedence follows. The name of the medal awarded by the Army is used. The other branches of service and the Department of Defense may have different names.

Congressional Medal of Honor: established in 1862. It is awarded by the president for acts above and beyond the call of duty while engaging the enemy in combat, placing one’s own life in jeopardy.

Distinguished Service Cross: established in 1918. It is awarded for acts similar to those required for the Medal of Honor but not meeting the standard for the higher award.

Distinguished Service Medal: established in 1918, the Distinguished Service Mdeal is the third highest medal overall and the highest that is awarded for meritorious service not involving combat.

Silver Star: established in 1918, the Silver Star is the third highest medal awarded for bravery in combat

Legion of Merit: established in 1942. It is awarded for outstanding service or achievement. This is a non-combat award for the Army. The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard will award a "V" device for valor if the act was performed in combat.

Distinguished Flying Cross: established in 1926, the Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while in flight. The qualifying act does not have to be related to combat. If the individual was involved in direct combat when the act was performed, the Navy and Marines will award the medal with a "V" device signifying valor.

Distinguished Warfare Medal: This is the controversial new medal. It will be awarded for exceptional meritorious acts performed away from the battlefield that have direct impact on combat operations.

Soldier’s Medal: established in 1926, the Soldier's Medal is awarded for acts of heroism not involving combat. Except for the aspect of flight, the standards for award are the same used for the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bronze Star: established in 1944, the Bronze Star is awarded for heroic acts or meritorious achievement or service connected to military operations against an armed enemy. The qualifying act does not have to involve direct combat, nor have been performed on the battlefield. If performed while in direct combat, the medal is awarded with a "V" device signifying valor.

Purple Heart: established in 1782; it is our nation’s oldest combat medal. It is awarded to any person wounded or killed in action.

Meritorious Service Medal: established in 1969, it is awarded for non-combat meritorious achievement or service.

Air Medal: established in 1942. The Air Medal is awarded for meritorious service, achievement, or heroism while in flight but not meeting the standards for the Distinguished Flying Cross. As with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal may be awarded with a "V" device if the qualifying act was performed in combat.

Army Commendation Medal: established in 1945, it is awarded for meritorious service or achievement where service or achievement does not meet the standards for the Meritorious Service Medal. Unlike the Meritorious Service Medal which is not awarded for combat activity, the Commendation Medal may be awarded with a "V" device for acts performed in direct combat.

Army Achievement Medal: established in 1981, it is awarded for non-combat meritorious service or achievement not meeting the standards for the Army Commendation Medal.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded for exceptional meritorious acts directly impacting combat on the redefined battlefield. It will not be awarded for achievement or service not directly involved in combat operations. If the criticism being levied against this new medal had merit, it should be addressing the placement of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross without "V" device, and the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Army Commendation Medal with "V" device.

Given the purpose and the standards for award that will be imposed along with the placement of other combat and non-combat awards on the order of precedence, the Distinguished Warfare Medal is properly placed. It’s the criticism that’s not.