After hearing from the nation's leading veterans organizations, Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) are introducing a bill to ensure that combat medals like the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart rank ahead of a new medal honoring service away from the front lines.
The U.S. Defense Department recently announced that the Distinguished Warfare Medal will recognize extraordinary achievement by unmanned aerial vehicle pilots and cyber warriors. The department plans to rank the medal below the Distinguished Flying Cross, but above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- two medals earned only through service on the battlefield.
"I'm grateful for the service of every member of the Armed Forces, and recognize that the sacrifices they make and the challenges they face differ depending on their particular strengths and skill set," Heller said. "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."
"Montanans who earned medals on the battlefield made unparalleled sacrifices and deserve our everlasting respect," said Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "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."
"I've listened to West Virginia veterans and agree with them; our brave service members who face life and death situations deserve the most distinguished medals the United States military awards," Manchin said. "While I support the Distinguished Warfare Medal, I do not believe it should be given higher precedence than awards for those who face the battlefield. 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."
"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. "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."
The Senators' bill is supported by the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
"The Montana VFW appreciates the Senators taking the lead to make sure medals earned in combat outrank medals earned away from the battlefield," said Tim Peters, the Montana VFW State Quartermaster Adjutant. "Drone pilots may play critical roles in today's conflicts, but they do not make the same sacrifices as service members who put their lives on the line for their country."
The Senators' bill, which is available online HERE, joins a similar measure recently introduced by five veterans who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A medal's ranking indicates how it is supposed to be displayed, with the Medal of Honor ranking the highest among the military's nearly 60 medals and ribbons. The Bronze Star is earned for acts of heroism in a combat zone and the Purple Heart awarded to those wounded or killed in action.