Defense Secretary Charles Hagel hasn’t held his job very long, but he’s already proved he can listen.
On Monday, he announced that he has put the kibosh on plans to create a new military medal for soldiers who either remotely control the drones used to attack insurgents overseas or who engage in other forms of cybernetic warfare.
Since such personnel are almost always located far from any actual battlefield, there was considerable controversy raised over the announcement in February of the Pentagon’s plans to create a new Distinguished Warfare Medal to honor them.
Those who pilot drones, for example, often work from comfortable chairs in military installations here in the United States, and go home to their families every night, unlike troops in the field in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Yet, the proposed medal would have ranked higher in what is called the “order of precedence” than such medals for direct combat as the Purple Heart (given for wounds) and the Bronze Star (given for valor).
After receiving a tsunami of complaints from active duty service members, veterans and members of Congress, Hagel now says that drone pilots and other cyberwarriors — who are highly trained and do have to make critical judgments quickly in their jobs — will get a different kind of award to honor their service.
Instead of a medal, the Pentagon will give them what is called a “distinguishing device” that can be attached to existing medals. That device, which is typically a small pin, will not alter the order of precedence for combat awards.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, one of the elected officials who had questioned the original medal’s status in the order of precedence, responded favorably Tuesday to the change, saying, “When it comes to military honors, actions on the virtual battlefield and on the live battlefield should be on two different levels. I’m glad Secretary Hagel made the right decision.”
So are plenty of combat soldiers.