A New “Afar” Medal: What Does It Mean?

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Department of Defense

What does it mean when the nation creates a new medal for deskbound warriors for distinguished service in war — when they are not at any risk themselves?

…and in fact may be operating a Predator drone in Nevada, hoping to finish their shift in time to see their son’s Cub Scout Pinewood Derby race at the local elementary school down the block from where said warrior lives?

…or for a cyber-warfare expert, sitting in a non-descript building tucked into some stateside military base, who thwarts a cyber-attack that could have done billions of dollars in damage?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled Wednesday, during what he said was likely his final meeting with Pentagon reporters, the Distinguished Warfare Medal.

This is a fundamental change, and shows how the digital revolution is affecting the battlefield. Twenty-first Century connectivity means you don’t have to be on the battlefield to affect the battlefield (which, in today’s world, goes far beyond the FEBA – the forward edge of the battle area). Divorcing war-time glory from “valor” — exposing yourself to wounds, if not worse — will take some getting used to.

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely-piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta said. “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”

But until Wednesday, Pentagon decorations for war-fighters generally required that they – in granddad’s lexicon – be warfighters: up close and personal with the enemy.

“Unfortunately, medals that they otherwise might be eligible for simply did not recognize that kind of contribution,” Panetta said of this new class of warrior. “And for that reason, recognizing these technological advances, I’m pleased to announce that I have formally approved the establishment of a new Distinguished Warfare Medal. The medal provides distinct department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails.”

The medal will rank, in order of the military’s preoccupation with precedence, just below the Distinguished Flying Cross, but above the Bronze Star.

As word of that flashed around the Internet late Wednesday, reaction to the Army Times‘ story on the new medal was not kind.

‘I spent nearly 26 months of my life and was awarded the Bronze Star, and you are tell me that someone can stay home and receive a higher medal?” one reader posted. “Guess these same guys qualify for the Purple Heart if they were to get a paper cut.”