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USA Today - Drone medal insult to soldiers

Op-Ed

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Location: Washington, DC

By Congressman Duncan Hunter

The decision by the Department of Defense to create a new military decoration--the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM)--for cyber warfare and drone operations has been met with stinging criticism. The problem is not so much who and what the DWM recognizes, but rather the order of precedence for the award.

According to the Pentagon, the DWM will rate higher than America's oldest and most recognized military decoration, the Purple Heart, which is awarded to men and women who are killed or wounded by enemy action. The DWM will also exceed the Bronze Star, created in 1944 and, according to officials, the last combat-related award created.

There is some truth to the idea that the battlefield has changed from what previous generations saw in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Unmanned platforms are a common element in combat operations today, providing ground support and other advantages. Cyber warfare is also a new frontier where American national security is challenged regularly and often out of sight.

What the DWM implies, by elevating the award above other combat valor decorations, is that the operators of unmanned systems, most of who are far removed from the battlefield, face the same risk and imminent danger presented by ground combat. No matter how these respective mission-sets are compared, they are not the same--not even close. Each assumes inherent risks but only in the case of ground combat operators is there often a constant and indiscriminate threat to individual safety and lives.

Perhaps one explanation for the decision to rate the DWM higher than the Purple Heart and Bronze Star is simply that it was an error in judgment. More likely, the explanation is rooted in the Pentagon's unrelenting attempt to redefine the nature of war and the dangers commonplace on the field of battle.

One of the greatest mysteries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is why so few Medals of Honor have been awarded. Until the Obama Administration, there was not a single living recipient of the military's highest award for combat heroism. The rationale from Pentagon leaders was that warfare has evolved and now combat is different than it was previously. In one of several responses from the Pentagon defending the excessively low Medal of Honor count, it was stated that:

"Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) are inherently different from previous major conflicts. The conduct of warfare has evolved significantly in the 30 years since the end of the Vietnam Conflict. Technological advancements have dramatically changed battlefield tactics, techniques and procedures. Precision-guided stand-off weapons allow our forces to destroy known enemy positions with reduced personal risk. OEF and OIF are conflicts against non-uniformed insurgents who use tactics and techniques, such as remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, and rocket, mortar and sniper attacks, to inflict damage on U.S. Forces and minimize their risk of being personally engaged…"

Ask the Marines and soldiers who fought in Fallujah, Basra, Ramadi, Ganjgal Valley or Marjah, about the dangers they faced and whether they operated with "reduced personal risk." Ask any surviving Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star or Purple Heart recipient from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan about the risks and dangers of combat. Many if not all are sure to disagree with the Pentagon's assessment.

The explanation for the significantly low number of Medals of Honor provides clarity and some translation for the creation of the DWM, suggesting somehow that the human cost of war is significantly less and pushbutton systems are slowly overtaking the basic necessity for an infantryman and his rifle. The problem is that DWM represents combat without risk -- a concept that has no basis in reality.

With the introduction of the DWM, some of the military's time-honored combat valor awards, specifically the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, will be diminished by a competing award that requires an individual assume little to no personal risk. Such a decision, especially in recognition of past and future valor award recipients, cannot stand.

The DWM must be demoted to its proper place in the order of military decorations, a move that is necessary to uphold the integrity of the awards process and ensure valor awards for courage and sacrifice in combat are not diminished in any way.


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