Production has been halted on the new US military Distinguished Warfare Medal after complaints that it would be regarded higher than other prestigious combat medals© Photo Department of Defense
WASHINGTON, March 12 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) The new US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of a recent decision that puts a new medal for non-combat military achievements by drone pilots and other remote service members not near the battlefield ahead of some prestigious combat medals, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced Tuesday.
“There has been considerable discussion about the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM), more specifically about its order of precedence. Secretary Hagel has consulted with the chairmen and military leadership… and he will work with senior leadership to review the order,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little in a briefing on Tuesday.
“He has ordered General Dempsey to lead the review and report back in 30 days,” Little added. General Martin Dempsey is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The DWM recognizes “exceptional and outstanding” non-combat achievements that directly impact combat or other military operations, said then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who retired last month, in a statement announcing the new medal on Feb. 13.
But the move has drawn ridicule from critics and angst from military support groups. A bipartisan cross section of lawmakers has appealed to Hagel to express concern about the medal’s rank compared to other military medals.
It is placed higher than the Bronze Star, given for acts of heroism in a combat zone, and the Purple Heart, given to service members who are wounded or killed in action against the enemy.
In a letter sent Monday to Hagel, US Senators Carl Levin and James Inhofe, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the new award could have an adverse impact on morale among troops who have been in battle.
That sentiment was echoed by 22 other senators in a letter to Hagel last week.
“We recognize that military awards should be updated as the tactics of warfare change. Yet, we maintain that heroism and personal courage in combat do not change from generation to generation, and should be held sacred and awarded accordingly,” they wrote.
A similar letter, signed by dozens of members of the US House of Representatives, was also sent to Hagel, and at least two bills (see the Senate version here and the House version here) have been introduced that would stop the new medal from being placed above the Purple Heart.
Several US military organizations including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have urged Hagel – who holds two Purple Hearts – to reconsider.
“If you have been in combat, you’re sleeping in trenches, you’re in foxholes, eating whatever there is, you’re lucky if you get a shower every week or two. To sit at a computer all day, go home for a steak dinner, sleep in your own bed, and the biggest danger you face is maybe spilling a cup of coffee in your lap, it’s just not the same,” said John Bircher, national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which promotes support for combat-wounded veterans.
Bircher is a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who holds several medals for valor including the Soldier’s Medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Bircher said in the military, awards and medals are given in place of bonuses and raises that come in the civilian world.
“When we look at a man’s chest we can know his whole history, but when we look at this medal on a guy’s chest, it’s going to be a joke. I can see recognizing their long hours and hard work and skills, I don’t deny they’re entitled to some recognition, but give these guys a badge, make a drone badge,” he said.
“None of the medals I got mean as much to me as the valor awards I received,” said Bircher in an interview with RIA Novosti, adding that he was “encouraged that Secretary Hagel is going to take another look at it.”
Pentagon spokesman Little said the backlash has halted production of the medal, which could be renamed pending the outcome of the review.
“No one has been nominated for this medal yet, so we do have time to make a final decision,” he said.
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