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DoD cancels “participation trophy” for drone pilots

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 4:03pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

The DoD has finally backed down. And I applaud their decision.

Following months of negative feedback, the DoD has officially scuttled the Distinguished Warfare Medal. The DWM — intended for drone operators — would’ve ranked ahead of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart (two combat decorations) in the order of precedence.

Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with the military community.

Do these cyber warriors deserve some sort of recognition? Perhaps.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had previously said that “the contribution they make does contribute to the success of combat operations, particularly when they remove the enemy from the field of battle, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight.”

But a drone pilot performing his duty – even if it “contributes to the success of combat operations” — involves a very different sort of “heroism” than a grunt risking his life. The former doesn’t have the chance to receive his “baptism under fire”, but he also hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself.

While no one should hold his proximity to the front lines (or lack thereof) against him, the drone pilot shouldn’t be artificially equated with those who are closer to the fight. This forceful sort of recognition amounts to a “participation trophy.” Everyone wins. Everyone is special. And if everyone is special...

But never mind “participation trophies”. In truth, the Distinguished Warfare Medal was doomed the moment DoD officials placed it ahead of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the order of precedence.

In place of a new medal, the DoD will create a distinguishing device that can be attached to old medals like the ARCOM (or the Army Commendation Medal).

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the concurrence of the service secretaries, have recommended the creation of a new distinguishing device that can be affixed to existing medals to recognize the extraordinary actions of this small number of men and women,” Defense Secretary Hagel said in a written release.

If drone pilots deserve special recognition — and I’m not convinced they do — this is about as fair as it gets.

“The servicemen and women who operate and support our remotely piloted aircraft, operate in cyber, and others are critical to our military’s mission of safeguarding the nation,” added Hagel.

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