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Drone Wars: Veterans plea to value human sacrifice in warfare

Published time: March 12, 2013 06:27
Edited time: March 12, 2013 23:08
Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle for static display at Michael Army Airfield, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (Reuters/U.S. Army/Spc. Latoya Wiggins/Handout)

Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle for static display at Michael Army Airfield, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (Reuters/U.S. Army/Spc. Latoya Wiggins/Handout)

A powerful US veterans' lobby has mobilized to oppose a new medal for drone pilots. The move reiterates an earlier call in the Senate for the Pentagon to reduce the award’s designation.

America’s largest organization for combat veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) – a 1.9-million-member nonprofit – has expressed concern over the Pentagon's announcement last month that it will begin awarding a new medal for drone warfare, one that is ranked higher than the Purple Heart.

VFW Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton has urged its members to support House and Senate bills that would lower the grade of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, approved last month by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The Pentagon ranked the new award as the ninth-highest in the armed forces, ahead of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

A sketch of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, approved last month by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“We have many friends in Congress who agree 100 percent with our position,” Hamilton said in a letter quoted by the Marine Corps Times, adding “but the VFW needs you to get the other members of Congress off their duffs.”

The VFW's announcement followed pressure by a bipartisan group of 22 senators also urging the Pentagon to change the medal’s designation. On Friday, the senators wrote to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, explaining their fears: “We believe that medals earned in combat, or in dangerous conditions, should maintain their precedence above non-combat awards,” the letter said, according to Huffington Post. 

That same view is shared by Hamilton, who explained that “this is a policy disagreement over the placement of the new medal, not whether drone operators, cyber warriors and others don’t deserve to be properly recognized for the tremendous impact they are bringing to the battlefield in real-time... The VFW just adamantly believes that medals that can only be earned in combat must rank higher than new medals awarded in the rear.”

The letter from the Senators concurred with the VFW's position, saying that “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."

Last month, the 2.4-million-member American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans' group, urged its members to file complaints about the medal in future conversations with their representatives. Also in February, VFW wrote a letter to Hagel requesting he change the designation of the award.

In response to the wave of complaints Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the decision to put a hold on the production of the new medals.

Hagel “heard their concerns,” spokesman George Little said. “He's heard the concerns of others. And he believes that it's prudent to take into account those concerns and conduct this review.”

Hagel also asked General Martin Dempsey to lead the review of the award's rank in comparison to other military medals.