Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Highest Honor

With all the buzz about drones and how the administration is ready to use them, not only for warfare, but to kill our citizens, here is some news that is somewhat related:

I know, this sounds like it is some kind of parody, but it is not. The Department of Defense recently authorized the Distinguished Warfare Medal, which is to be given to those that have distinguished themselves in cyberwarfare and combat drone operations.

So far, it doesn't sound terrible. I am sure that operating those things can be difficult and challenging at times. And they have made significant contributions to the wars.

But here is the best part. Medals are slapped on the chest of your uniform in a precise order, the most important ones placed higher up than those that identify other achievements, but did not involve acts of valor. So, the Medal of Honor, the highest ranking medal, would go up at the top, while a ribbon showing that you are an expert marksman would go down towards the bottom, close to the ribbon showing that you finished basic training that everyone wears.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal is ranked above the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart in order of precedence. In the past, Uncle Charlie had to storm a bunker full of machine gunners, getting a few holes in the process and he could proudly wear an important medal. Now, his nephew can sit in an air conditioned trailer watching a video screen, risking a leg falling asleep, to earn even higher honors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like most of the people taking issue with the DWM is that drone pilots and cyberwarfare specialists qualify for it. After looking at the criteria for the DWM, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart, it appears that the reason the DWM was placed above the others was that it requires both: 1) engagement in combat, and 2) employment of a weapons system, such that the employment has an immediate and direct impact on the outcome of the engagement. And although drone pilots and cyberwarfare specialists are included in the eligibility, unless I'm missing something, it doesn't appear that the award was designed specifically for them. Anyone meeting those two qualifications in air, sea, land, space or cyberspace warfare qualifies.

For comparative purposes, the Purple Heart does not require the recipient to be a combatant; only that they sustain a wound while in a combat zone, either from an enemy, or from misdirected friendly fire. Thus -- no to diminish the award, but -- it does not actually require the recipient to do anything; although it is usually awarded for more involved, cognizant acts of selflessness, at its core it only requires the recipient to have something done to him/her.

The Bronze Star is awarded in two categories, one being for valor. It too requires physical presence in a combat zone, and requires actual action on the part of the recipient; but that action does not have to be combatant in nature, and in fact does not have occur during an actual combat engagement. To receive the V for valor, there must be an act of heroism -- rather than simply meritorious service -- but again, it does not have to be while engaged in combat.

Certainly each of these awards recognizes action that has a lasting impact on one or more people, but the DWM recognizes combatant action that has an impact on everyone involved in the engagement. In fact, all of the medals above the DWM -- except for the Medal of Honor, Service Crosses, and Silver Star -- can be awarded for non-valorous acts. Instead some awards, like the Legion of Merit, can be awarded for exceptional non-valorous service in peace time.

It would seem to me that the DWM was ranked above the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart because, unlike the others, it requires at a minimum that the recipient perform some combat action that affects the outcome of an engagement. My guess is that whoever determined the rank of the DWM was not discounting acts of valor, but rather determining that measurable contributions to the overall outcome of a combat engagement ranks above the the level of valor necessary to qualify for the Bronze Star.

Again, I don't disagree with the point that valor medals should take precedence over simple achievement or qualification medals; but the DWM is not either of the latter, it is a performance award. And if we are to reorder the current order of precedence so that all valor awards are above performance awards, and those above achievement and qualification, then all six of the Distinguished Service medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldier's Medal, Navy/MC Medal, Airman's Medal, and CG Medal should be moved down as well.