The Pentagon is creating a new medal for military personnel who contribute to combat operations, but are physically removed from the fight. That's including the operators of unmanned aircraft like the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper.
"I've always felt, having seen the great work that they do, day in and day out, that those who performed in an outstanding manner should be recognized. Unfortunately, medals that they otherwise might be eligible for simply did not recognize that kind of -- of contribution," Panetta says. "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."
With the creation of "the distinguished warfare medal the department now has that ability, and it will be reserved only for those who have met the highest standards," Panetta continues. "This award recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century."
Astonishingly, as reported by Gannett Government Media (aka Defense News, Army, Navy, Navy, Marine Corps and Military Times), the new medal is going to be placed above the Bronze Star with Valor device in the order of precedence--i.e. it ranks higher than that medal in prestige. For the flying services, the new medal ranks just below the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As my old colleague Andrew Tilghman reports: The order of precedence came as a surprise to Doug Sterner, a military medals expert and the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, the largest database of military medal recipients.
"It's got me puzzled," Sterner said in an interview Wednesday. "I understand the need to recognize the guys at the console who are doing some pretty important things. But to see it ranking above the Bronze Star [with] V?"
The announcement was met overwhelmingly with disdain by a number of military personnel I talked to, though most agree that unmanned aircraft operators do need to receive some kind of recognition--just not this.
This awesome video basically sums up the situation--though the US Air Force uses trailers for its crews. The US Navy hopes to build an actual building for its Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton operators.