So there has been a fair amount of blowback from U.S. troops and veterans on the Pentagon‘s announcement last week of the Distinguished Warfare Medal, created to recognize the battlefield contributions of troops who don’t risk their lives in battle – cyber-warriors and drone-drivers are the most-often-cited categories of those likely to be so heralded.
The consensus seems to be that while such technicians warrant recognition, it shouldn’t rank above the Bronze Star with V-device – for valor – as is now planned. While Bronze Stars are fairly common, those with V devices – for combat gallantry – are much more rare. Only one in 40 Bronze Stars are awarded with a V-device, for those who performed well under fire at great personal risk.
“Soldiers right now are going on patrol every day hoping to not step on an IED or be engaged by sniper fire after 9 or 12 months and will leave with an AAM [Army Achievement Medal] or ARCOM [Army Commendation Medal] or heavens forbid a Purple Heart,” one posted at the Army Times website. “Meanwhile a Soldier can sit behind a video screen move a joystick, push some buttons and then go home, go out for a steak dinner, sleep in their own bed, and kiss their spouse and kids goodnight and have the potential to get an award that is higher, this is ridiculous.”
Critics have set up a petition on the White House website, asking the new medal not rank above a Bronze Star with V-device. “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,” the petition reads. “This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned.”
But the Pentagon is sticking to its joystick.
“This is for direct impacts,” Juliet Beyler, the acting director of officer and enlisted personnel management at the Pentagon, told Jim Garamone of the Pentagon’s American Forces News Service. “There are other meritorious awards that recognize service over a period of time — this [award] is intended to recognize specific impacts on the battlefield.” She likened it to the Distinguished Flying Cross, which isn’t awarded for a career or combat tour, but for a specific event.
Peter W. Singer, a robowar scholar, hailed the Pentagon’s action in a column in Sunday’s Washington Post:
The Distinguished Warfare Medal perfectly encapsulates how war, though changing, in many ways remains the same. Just as it was 5,000 years ago, war today is a story both tragic and glorious, an arena where terrible things take place but individuals distinguish themselves through extraordinary acts. New technology is rewriting major parts of that story, however — the who, the how, the where and even the why of those terrible things and extraordinary acts. We can decry it, we can mock it, or we can simply recognize that this is the reality of our strange new world of robotic planes, computerized weapons and medals that aren’t for valor in combat.
All well and good, but the betting here at Battleland is that the DWM’s order of precedence will end up being taken down a peg so that it doesn’t eclipse the Bronze Star with V-device.