Lawmakers, Vet Groups Panning Pentagon's New Medal
The military's new medal for cyber warriors should get a demotion
February 27, 2013
By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The military's new medal for cyber
warriors should get a demotion, according to veterans groups and lawmakers who
say it shouldn't outrank such revered honors as the Bronze Star and the Purple
The Distinguished Warfare Medal, announced by the Defense
Department two weeks ago, is a sign of the changing nature of war, in which
attacks conducted remotely have played an increasingly important role in
gathering intelligence and killing enemy fighters and terrorists. It will
recognize extraordinary achievement related to a military operation occurring
after Sept. 11, 2001.
But the Veterans of Foreign War and other groups say that
ranking it ahead of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart is an injustice to those
who served on the front-lines.
On Wednesday, his first day on the job, Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel received a letter from the VFW about the medal, the first
combat-related award to be created since World War II.
John Hamilton, the group's commander-in-chief, said it's
important to recognize drone pilots and others. "But medals that can only
be earned in combat must outrank new medals earned in the rear," he said.
Members of Congress are also getting involved. Five
veterans now serving in the House introduced a bill that would prohibit the
Defense Department from rating the medal equal to or higher than the Purple
Heart. A medal's order of precedence refers to how they are to be displayed,
with the Medal of Honor getting top billing among nearly 60 medals and ribbons.
"It's absolutely necessary to ensure that combat valor
awards are not diminished in any way," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.,
who served two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
There is no indication the Pentagon is rethinking the award
or its ranking.
"The Defense Department remains committed to honoring
the remotely piloted aircraft operators and the cyber warriors as
appropriate," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "This is
recognition of their significant contributions and the changing nature of warfare."
The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force are
developing the criteria for the medal for each of the military services that
will lay out what someone would have to do in order to qualify. The medal has
been designed, but it has not yet been minted or created. Once the criteria are
finalized, then troops can be nominated for the award.
The backlash to the Pentagon's announcement includes an
online petition to the White House that has been signed by more than 15,000
people. The petition calls the medal "an injustice to those who served and
risked their lives" and says it should not be allowed to move forward as
planned. The organizers need to get to 100,000 signatures to elicit a formal
response from the administration, a threshold established by the Obama administration.
John Bircher, a spokesman for the Military Order of the
Purple Heart, said the veterans groups are not objecting to the medal at all —
just the ranking. He said some medals ranked ahead of the Purple Heart are
achievement medals that can be earned outside of war time. What bothers many
veterans is that the new Distinguished Warfare Medal appears be a war-time
medal that trumps acts of valor, which he finds insulting.
He said it's extremely rare for veterans' service
organizations to publicly chastise the Defense Department, but the new medal
risks being looked down upon by veterans.
"These guys work relentless hours, and are dedicated
and good at what they do, but it's completely different from the hardships of
serving in combat and being on the battlefield," Bircher said.
A spokesman for Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said the general has made clear that there will be very high
standards for the award, which requires approval at the top service levels. The
spokesman, Marine Col. David Lapan, said Dempsey believes the medal will be
infrequently awarded because the bar for qualifying is so high.
It is widely expected that the award could be handed out
and the public may never know about it because the actions envisioned in the
types of cyber, intelligence or drone operations that might qualify for the
honor would often be classified as top secret.
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