The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have joined together in asking the Pentagon to reconsider the purpose of its new military battle medal for drone aircraft pilots and similar "cyberwarriors," who rarely if ever actually set their boots on the battlefield.
In a letter to brand new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and James M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Democratic chairman and Senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told the Pentagon that its new Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM) should not imply an equal or greater level of honor for battlefield valor as that associated with traditional medals like the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
"Although we are supportive of this new medal, we are concerned that it is given precedence above awards earned by service members for actions on the battlefield," the Senators wrote.
An enlisted combat soldier, Defense Secretary Hagel was awarded two Purple Hearts during his service in the Vietnam War.
Sens. Levin and Inhofe equated the DWM to the creation in 1942 of the Air Medal intended to raise the moral of airmen in World War II. "This caused a strong adverse reaction by the ground troops, particularly the infantry riflemen who suffered the heaviest losses and endured the greatest hardships," they wrote.
Negative reaction to the Air Medal led President Franklin Roosevelt to authorize the Bronze Star Medal to recognize ground troops, "particularly the infantry riflemen who suffered the heaviest losses and endured the greatest hardships," according to the Senators' letter.
In a statement announcing the Distinguished Warfare Medal, former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta said it was intended to provide "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." And chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, assured that criteria for awarding the new medal would be "highly selective and reflect high standards."
However, assurances from the top failed to prevent active duty servicemembers and veterans groups from criticizing the move, referring to the DWM as the "Nintendo medal."
"Like so many of the veterans groups who have expressed their displeasure with this recent announcement, we are very concerned about the message that this decision sends to those brave veterans of our Nation's wars since 1941 whose heroism and meritorious service has been recognized by the Bronze Star Medal," concluded Sens. Levin and Inhofe.
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