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Letter to Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense - War Medals

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has joined a bipartisan group of Senators urging the Pentagon to reconsider its controversial decision to rank a new medal over awards earned by service members in direct combat. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Senators expressed opposition to the Department's decision to rank the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM)-which is designed to recognize service members such as drone pilots and cyber warriors for achievements that do not involve direct combat-above combat decorations such as the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

In response to similar requests from Members of Congress and veterans groups across the country, Secretary Hagel today said he has ordered the military service chiefs to review the new medal and its precedence.

"I'm encouraged that Secretary Hagel has ordered a review of the Distinguished Warfare Medal and its precedence in relation to combat medals," said Senator Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "While extraordinary achievements in non-combat situations should be appropriately recognized, medals earned in combat for acts of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice should remain the nation's highest and most sacred military honors."

Senator Ayotte also is a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation (S. 470) to ensure that the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star occupy a position of precedence above the new DWM.


Dear Secretary Hagel,

We respectfully request that you reconsider the precedence that the Department of Defense has given to the newly created Distinguished Warfare Medal.

While we support the Defense Department's decision to authorize a new decoration - the Distinguished Warfare Medal - as a way to recognize silent warriors, such as drone pilots and cyber warriors, we adamantly oppose the decision to elevate this award above those earned in direct combat. 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.

We believe that medals earned in combat, or in dangerous conditions, should maintain their precedence above non-combat awards. Placing the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart diminishes the significance of awards earned by risking one's life in direct combat or through acts of heroism. Moreover, the Distinguished Warfare Medal's placement directly above the Soldier's Medal - an award for bravery and voluntary risk of life not involving conflict with an armed enemy - diminishes the precedence given to acts of individual gallantry in circumstances other than combat.

We have listened to the many Veterans in our states that have contacted us about the precedence of this award and agree that combat awards are sacred, and their precedence is best left undisturbed to preserve the legacy of service in combat and bravery.

The United States Senate previously recognized the importance of the Purple Heart. In 1985, the Senate approved an amendment that changed the precedence of the Purple Heart - elevating its precedence directly above the Meritorious Service Medals. For almost 30 years, that precedence has been left unchanged.

With your direct combat experience, you know too well that generations of Americans have risked their lives in combat, and many have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The precedence of combat awards recognizes these acts of heroism and should maintain as our military's highest honors.

Thank you for your consideration into this matter.


U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)
U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)
U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME)
U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)
U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-CO)
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

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