Air Force Times
By Rick Maze
Congressional opposition continues to grow to a Pentagon decision to create a new medal for drone operators that ranks higher in precedence than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Four senators - two Republicans and two Democrats - introduced a bill Wednesday that would prevent the new Distinguished Warfare Medal from ranking ahead of medals awarded for direct combat. It allows the Defense Department to go ahead with an award for extraordinary achievement in cyber warfare and for operators of unmanned aerial vehicles, but it would make certain the new medal ranks behind the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
The bill, S 470, is supported by the nation's two largest veterans organizations, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, and by the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Similar legislation was introduced Feb. 26 in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, chief sponsor of the Senate bill, said he understands warfare is changing but medals earned on the battlefield are for those who have "made unparalleled sacrifices and deserve out everlasting respect."
"The front lines of conflict are changing, but the folks who serve directly in the theater of war are at greater risk, and we should fully acknowledge the risks that their service brings," said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, which has heard complaints about the Pentagon decision from many veterans organizations.
Original cosponsors of the Senate bill include Republicans Dean Heller of Nevada and John Boozman of Arkansas and Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
"The proposed ranking of Distinguished Warfare Medal above medals like the Purple Heart and Bronze Star blurs the line between the risk that is taken by those who are serving directly under enemy fire and those who are not," Boozman said.
Heller said he recognizes that everyone in the service faces challenges and makes sacrifices, but what they face differs depending on their skills and duties. "In a world where the nature of war is ever-changing, this legislation allows service members to be recognized for their contributions while also preserving unique honors for those who have served on the battlefield," Heller said.
Manchin said he supports the new award but not its ranking. "Awards earned in combat for heroism, patriotism and a commitment to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy every day should not rank below a medal earned in relative safety. Even though the standard practices of war are changing, the risks combat warriors face daily should meet the most renowned awards," he said.
"While we acknowledge the important role that our drone pilots play on the modern-day battlefield and believe they should be recognized for their distinguished service, that recognition should be made in a manner that equates the nature of their service with the sacrifices of those who serve in combat zones, risking life and limb, under direct enemy fire," Boozman said.