Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal

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Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal

Meet Staff Sergeant Maurice Scott, a special operations Marine and a hero.  His heroism is of the variety one sees in TV and movies, but few ever get a chance to see in real life.  In September of 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott was serving as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Marine Special Operations Team 8133, Marine Special Operations Company Charlie, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, in Farah province, Afghanistan.

During a night helicopter raid into an insurgent stronghold on 6 September 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott employed supporting aircraft to great effect to disrupt activities and sever supply lines. Using aircraft sensors, he guided his unit to their security positions. As the sun rose, both security positions came under ruthless assault by enemy forces intent upon regaining their sanctuary. Coordinating bomb, rocket, and gun attacks from the aircraft overhead, Staff Sergeant Scott held off the enemy assaults while observing from an exposed position that sustained withering fire from the insurgents. With the adjacent element pinned down by mortar fire, Staff Sergeant Scott spotted and eliminated an insurgent cave position with the employment of a missile strike, enabling the element to regain security. Hours later the attack began again when insurgents fought at close range with hand grenades. Leaping to the wall he engaged the enemy with his weapon while directing aerial gun runs that were dangerously close to friendly forces. His bold actions broke the back of the assault, causing the enemy to break off their attack.

For his actions he was awarded the Bronze Star medal with “V” for valorous actions.

Scott is the kind of hero we’ve come to expect from our men and women singled out for their actions; humble and willing to share credit. 

“You can’t attribute the success of the mission to one individual,” Scott said. “Everyone is actively involved in the process. It represents the achievements of our team.”  Scott, a former Army Ranger, has served three deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.

The Bronze Star is awarded for either meritorious service or combat heroism. The bronze “V” is a combat distinguishing device for acts of combat heroism or valor.

“There was excellent leadership at the team level,” Scott said. “That’s what allowed us to perform with accuracy.”

The Bronze Star recipient, whose father was an Army lieutenant colonel, had a military upbringing and realized his own military career when he was 18.

What seems absurd though is that if any of the aerial fires mentioned in the citation were from drones, the pilot of that drone, (located somewhere within the US) will be retroactively eligible for a medal which outranks SSG Scott’s in order of precedence.

I received a Facebook message from a friend last night agreeing with what I had written yesterday, but noting that in some instances people seem to be denigrating the drone pilots (which he refers to as RPA or “Remotely Piloted Aircraft”) instead of targeting the award itself.  As he said:

First, I'm 100% in agreement it should be lower on the rack. I would put it just below the Aerial Achievement Medal. But that being said, some of the anger is being completely mis-directed at the RPA crews themselves. There is a misconception going around that if someone walked into one of the RPA pods it would resemble Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard [characters from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”] sitting around eating takeout on HALO night. Now, I'm not an RPA guy, my base accounted for the bulk of RPA combat enragements last year. I know these guys, and I assure they aren't the high school AV squad…. I also find it ironic that in expressing their anger about the precedent of a medal, so many ground ops guys are choosing to lambast guys who had surely didn't make the decision. That's because they are busy working six or seven days per week providing real-time reconnaissance and firepower to those same ground operators to keep them safe. And the misconception that these guys are sitting on the deck of the Starship Enterprise sipping mint juleps is nonsense.

 He makes a fair point that we should remember.  These guys do an absolutely invaluable service, and do it with the expertise we’ve come to expect from all the men and women of the military today.  So, when we complain about the order of precedence of the medal, we need to make abundantly clear that it isn’t the servicemembers we criticize, but rather an awards system that would place heroism without actual danger above that displayed by our people actually on the ground risking life and limb.

Today I took part in a “Bloggers Roundtable” discussion with the DoD about this medal.  I was the first person on the call, and I asked two questions.  Actually, I asked the same question twice, and didn’t get the response I hoped for either time.  I suspect I might not be invited back to their Roundtables.

My question was this:

What actions would warrant this medal that would be so above the criteria for a medal like an MSM?

The MSM, or “Meritorious Service Medal” is authorized for anyone “who, has distinguished himself or herself by outstanding meritorious achievement or service… while serving in a non-combat area [or]…for outstanding non-combat meritorious achievement or service in a non-combat or combat area.”

The new Distinguished Warfare Medal would be authorized “’extraordinary achievement’ directly tied to a combat operation but at a far remove from the actual battlefield.”  By way of example, the DoD cited these two possibilities:

"The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyber attack on a DOD computer system."

The lady hosting the phone call today, who works for the Office of Secretary of Defense, said that the DWM is higher in precedence, and is to honor a singular act of “heroism” (her word) that affected combat operations.

I still don’t see a distinction.  It seems the MSM could have been awarded to either of the two DWM examples, and it would have been appropriate.  Why create an award higher than the one that exists, which is even higher than the actions of those facing death, bodily injury etc?  Well, according to her, this was the unanimous recommendation of the service chiefs and service secretaries.


I find that difficult to believe.  You’re telling me every one of the service chiefs felt it was appropriate for a drone pilot to get an award higher than that of the JTAC on the ground (like SSG Scott) who was engaging in small arms fire, dodging grenades and coordinating fires?  I find that difficult to believe.

However, if you want unanimity of opinion, then look no further than the veterans organizations. 

The American Legion:

It's pretty much common sense, a medal for drone warfare should not be senior in ranking to medals that are earned by troops who are in harm’s way. It should not take precedence over the Purple Heart or Bronze Star as proposed by the DoD. While the medal – which could be earned for extraordinary service to the war effort by launching drones or cyber warfare attacks from places like Nellis AFB in Las Vegas or Tampa, Fla. – is certainly worth considering – it should not rank higher than medals that often cost American lives to earn.


John Hamilton, the VFW’s commander-in-chief, said in a statement that his organization “fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time,” but added that “medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear.”

Military Order of the Purple Heart:

 “To rank what is basically an award for meritorious service higher than any award for heroism is degrading and insulting to every American combat soldier, airman, sailor or Marine who risks his or her life and endures the daily rigors of combat in a hostile environment,” the order said in a prepared statement.

The DoD conference call left me with no doubt that this medal was going through, regardless of what anyone thinks about it.  But you simply cannot convince me that no matter how great the service of these drone pilots, no matter how many lives each of them saves, that it is somehow more worthy of a medal than the actions of SSG Scott.  I thank God that we do have such experienced drone operators out there looking out for my ground pounding brothers, but I don’t see how their service (no matter how incredible and life saving) warrants something higher than a Meritorious Service Medal.


UPDATE: Reminder from Ed in the comments below, there is a petition you can sign to get this looked at by White House which you can sign AT THIS LINK.

Lower the precedence of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal

The Pentagon is introducing a new medal to recognized the service of pilots of unmanned drones during combat operations. This medal will be placed in precedence order just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and just above a Bronze Star Medal. Bronze Stars are commonly awarded with a Valor device in recognition of a soldier's service in the heat of combat while on the ground in the theater of operation. Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground. This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned.

Posted in the burner | 283 comments
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A drone pilot does not deserve a medal! Sitting in the continental US in a cushy office doing exactly what many teens and adults too for a few hours a day does not incur any risk or harm, nor does it expose them to battle. This is akin to many of the folks that worked in military personnel wearing a chest full of ribbons (John Kerry Syndrome), it's all in the paperwork!!

There is a very good reason for the medal. The president and DOD are afraid that the desk jockeys will have a melt down and use the drones on them.

There is a very good reason for the medal. The president and DOD are afraid that the desk jockeys will have a melt down and use the drones on them.

Met a drone pilot at "Panda Express" in LA. Flies drones in the comfort of his office in LA and at the end of the day goes home and has dinner with wife and kiddies. Some threat!!

The real intel for the drone strikes comes from boots on the ground, what are they getting for the real work? There is absolutely no risk involved in guiding a drone with a joy stick in an airconditioned room thopusands of miles away. I have a friend who fought at Que Son and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star as well as a friend who was awarded the Bronze Star for a fire fight in II Corp where he was responsible for getting people out alive, and the government wants to demean these awards by placing a medal for Clerks above them, this is an an affront to all who have ever served in the combat arms.

As a Vietnam Veteran I registered my protest with Senator Joe Manchin's
who serves on Senate Armed Services Committee. Thanks.

C. D. "Tony" Hylton III
P.O. Box 248
Bruceton Mills, WV 26525

What a shame for all the military vets who were in the middle of war, were wounded both physically and mentally to get this news that a Second Lieutenant who instead of going in the field was given a cushy, safe job AND A MEDAL? I am ashamed of my service.

Armchair warrior Medal for Valor outranking the PH and Bronze Star? Outrageous! I guess you really do put yourself in harm's way when you have to run to the fridge for a beer between missions! War is no damn video game!

A Drone Pilot possesses great skills and it must be a very stressful job. Give him/her Drone Pilot Wings to proudly wear.

They have the skills of ny remote control enthusiast. Like any pilot, they don't see the faces of the people that they kill, nor do they have a fear of being killed themselves. Those that fly the friendly phone booth are pompous asses in many cases, and probably get flight pay even when they get out of their chair (that's more expensive than your entire living room) to go to the can or get a drink. As far as the stress of killing someone, I had the equal stress of maintaining munitions that could be used to kill someone, or worse yet, I helped to maintain Egress systems that could kill a real pilot if not maintained correctly. These guys eject out of there chair when a coworker puts a fake spider on their head during work hours. They can have a badge that tells what they do, and that's it. Their badge should be a video game joystick.

I agree. I work munitions too, and as safe as it is (seriously not as dangerous to do as it sounds at first) you never know when that freak accident could occur and a flare sparks off or a dropped fuze detonates, not to mention all the industrial mishaps that could range from a small cut to a crushed limb. I stress that these are highly unlikely, but possible. What are the dangers to RPA pilots? I don't have a problem with them having a medal specific to them, but it should rate somewhere with the National Defense Service medal, or maybe just below the Achievement medal (since you DO have to get specialized training).

I have no problem with Drone operators receiving recognition for their work However, the classification of that medal should be equal to the respective branch of service's Achievement Medal.

Some of the toughest days in the field earned troops ARCOMs and Bronze Stars with "V" device. To rank the DWM over those medals is an insult to all 'grunts' - and I use that title as a generic term of affection.

I suppose losing your Air Conditioning could be Hazardous. Seriously! Their Job is extreamly Important but Not above a Bronze Star! WTF.

this is a joke , right?
this puts the bronze star on a par with the national defense metal.
why not just give the bronze star for graduating boot camp.
not everyone in a combat zone gets the bronze star.
but some airman sitting in an air conditioned office , playing computer
games gets a metal ranked higher?
why not , it goes with all the other insanity.

The decision to rank the DWM above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart does a tremendous dis-service to all prior and future awardee's for their action(s) in combat. The MSM would seem appropriate for significant contributions from a Non Combat Zone.
I salute the Drone Pilots for their professionalism and attention to duty. However, their duty is in a non-combat zone. The candidates and recipients of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart performed their duty in a combat zone, subject to hostile fire.

It seems really hard for me to understand why you want to give a medal for sitting on your butt in a safe zone. There are people who have served in combat that just got a thnakyou and that was it. And some got spit on go figure.

What a CROCK of @#&&*@%$!!! Higher than a Bronze Star Medal?? I don't think so. What danger is involved with this medal? NONE!

Ranking it above the Purple Heart, etc is utter stupidity. I cannot believe the Commandant or Army Chief signed off on this! I quite frankly see no reason for a separate medal for these guys. If they must give them a separate medal, it would be stupid to rank it above the Purple Heart. If the recipients are stupid enough to wear it, at that ranking, I guarantee they are going to have to prove they have a set, because every grunt and even a lot of supply clerks are going to laugh at them, if not push a fight. If they wear it, they will be subjected to scorn and ridicule by those that don't fight from an arm chair. If they had killed Bin Laden, I would have said give them some type of medal, but not with a V. I would laugh if this wasn't so stupid.

R Willis
Capt, USMC (Ret)
(Mustanger 0311/0369/0302)

A real insult to the heros that actually deserve a medal. another example of our totally out of touch with reality,government. drone operators should refuse to accept this medal.

Just another way for the progressives to break down military morale. I can't believe our top Generals and Command Sergeants agree to award a medal to arm chair operators who aren't even in the combat zone.

Really! So now it's the Democrats fault! Must be a Teapartier. At least the Dem's are not trying to cut V.A. benefits like the Repubs' are trying to.

How are drone pilots, who aren't actually flying themselves, more deserving of special recognition JUST FOR DOING THEIRJOBS than real pilots? These drone so-called pilots are basically playing with remote control toys that are really fancy and expensive.

This bis bull sh--

Why not just give everybody a metal for setting on your ass.

I see no problem of the medals being awarded to drone pilots. If there is objections then there is a misunderstanding of the situation. It isn't as if a MOH is being awarded but a troop being honored for performing an outstanding service to his country. If the majotity still object then all drones should be parked and the infantry can go in and root out the enemy.

sounds about right if you are part of the Obama administration. but, if you're not it is just plain silly. A nitwit could make a better recommendation.

If the comment about our service chiefs was correct, then they have been so far removed from direct combat for so long that they have lost touch with the reality of combat and need to be replaced by soldiers who still remember what true heroism is. The medal in question should be on a par with the Army Commendation Medal I received for just doing what I considered was my job in Viet Nam. I see no heroism in the actions of a ROV pilot pitting a pilotless drone against an enemy from the safety of an armchair in an air-conditioned facility stateside. I see duty, responsibility and skill that if successful, should be commended, but not at the proposed level.

No! Combat medals are just that combat earned. By troops in the theater of operation.
Not from 8000 miles away.

As a veteran of the air force I think this medal is misplaced in the rack and should be down the road perhaps = aaa medal One suggestion was drone pilot wings which I think is a better idea.

So if UAV pilots get the Distinguished Wafare Medal while in the U.S. because of their drones, then shouldn't Drill Instructors, Drill Sergeants, and MOS Instructors get one too? After all, the soldiers, Marines, airmen, & sailors on the battlefield are a result of the training provided by afore mentioned instructors. A medal for being invlolved in combat is fine, whether it be inperson, or not, but it shouldn't take precedence over a medal that risked lives. How does that even make sense? "You sat behind a view screen in a temperature controlled room, and your beige Volvo parked outside, heres a medal.", meanwhile "You risked your life, dodging enemy bullets, ensuring the enemy didn't gain ground, while your wife, son that you haven't seen yet, wonder if you'll come home safe, heres a pat on the back." That's what this new medal says to those of us that served overseas. Its wrong to have that medal mean more than what it should. It sickens me, and I'm ashamed to say I served.

If you are going to rank the medal it would more appropriately be placed ahead of the Army Commendation Medal. How can you rank it above the Bronze Star when you earned it sitting somewhere other than the front lines in a combat zone. At least the Bronze Star Medal is awarded for the combat zone.

My nephew is a RPV pilot. Why is it different for them but a Captain on an Aegis class destroyer gets a medal for firing a missile 200 miles away. These guys are highly skilled and the training to fly these things is tough.

Can't be that tough, I flew a sim for the drone after a mere 1 hour of briefing. Drone are only effective against an enemy which is stuck in the 7th century! Any advanced military which can jam or who has radar, will make these "aircraft" mission non effective.

Only those who put their boots on the ground in a combat area, risking the ultimate sacrifice, should be receiving combat medals...what's next, Congressional Medal of Honor for Drone Pilot Valor in the face of enemy fire?

I can't believe there are those who in good conscience would accept this medal knowing that its the boots on the ground that puts their ass on the line......How demeaning to the brave souls whose medals came with a price................

Just a continuation of the 'prostitution' of the word Hero. I have always assigned the voluntary element of threat to personal life or limb to qualify. Recall the liberal media assigned the word hero to the victims of 911 also. Few wanted to challenge then in order not to appear callous of their suffering and loss of life. But they did not face danger voluntarily. I'd love to know who pushed for this and influenced the decision makers. Drone operators may well deserve recognition for their skill and hard work, but not above heroics please.

Combat medals represent participation in COMBAT!
Why not give the drone pilots a "patch" like the Boy Scouts get for accomplishing particlar tasks?

This is taking-Everyone Gets A Trophy- to far. What a bunch of wussies.

I agree with the previous comment, give drone pilots a set of wings to wear on their uniform and the MSM if they distinguis themselves in the performance of their job. But the only time they should earn any kind of combat medal is if they are operating their drone from a combat zone.

I thought the wings I earned as a WSO required more expertise than sitting in a padded chair, moving a joystick, verifying a target and pushing a 'kill button'. I was in harms way every time I flew.

If we want to give them some wings, lets make them look like the up side down AOPA wings over an Easyboy chair.

My father was awarded the Bronze Star for valor during WWII in the Pacific Theater. He was an Army Sergeant with the Buckeye Division. He also was awarded two Purple Hearts. My father, who died in 2006, is a true hero in my eyes. While drone pilots can and should be recognized I do not believe their recognition should be on the same level, or higher, than those who risk their life in service to their country. By watering down the requirements for earning a medal, it reduces the significance for those who have gone before and the sacrifice and valor of their actions while under fire.

That should be just above the expert marksman medal.


What ever happen to the Cold War Medal proposal?

Just like little league, everyone gets a trophy. Political corretness again run amok>

This is not only a disgrace, but it is an outrage. Persons who have been awarded the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart were in harms way when they earned it. If earn a medal for flying a drone, then we need to award Silver Stars to all pilots who flew combat missions in all wars. Also to all the ground troops in the Vietnam war. I was in aircraft refueling in the Air Force in Vietnam and didn't even have a weapon. I think that more then qualifies for a Silver Star or at least a new Medal ranked higher than a drone pilots. Will the B.S. from this present administration ever stop?

The driving force behind this is that a pilot views an assignment to drones as an absolute calamity; pilots want to be pilots, not gizmo operators. The brass is trying to make the sow's ear look like a silk purse.

What do you guys expect from the present administration? They have withheld support of men dying in Libya and in the process of purging the military. Of course they consider "video callouses" over honor, loyalty and scarifice. If you are reading this and still support Obama, you are an idiot.

What a travesty! We are gettingt to be like the Krasnovian Army that issues so many medals to cover their shirts that they don't have to provide uniform shirts anymore because all the material is covered with medals, citations, etc, and any shirt will do. Seriously, there are plenty of medals that can be given to drone operators ranging from Achiebement Medals, to Commendaton Medals, to Meritorious Achievement Awards, and the then Bronze Stars for overseas combat. If it is necessary to make aspecial distinction for drone operators, then a special type of cluster can be put on one of the existing medals like the "V" for Valor that alsready exists. Panetta should be reprimanded for playing to the"social experiment" balcony for approving the drone medal. He obviously does not know much about what medals are for and who should get what. He has overstayed his usefulness to the DoD!

A highly skillful job indeed. Has he/she ever had to piss or shit himself/herself because of incoming enemy fire and not be able to move for hours at a time????? Do they ever see person next to them disappear when a mortar or rocket makes a direct hit? Are they sitting on rocks/mud/bodies while they "carry out" their mission or sit in an environmentally controlled room in an ergonomically designed chair?????? How about blood and guts of your buddy OR the enemy splattered everywhere????? Where is the common sense of our leaders????????


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.