The Defense Department is reportedly inventing a new medal designed to reward soliders who fight battles from the safety of their computer consoles. The Associated Press says the Pentagon is creating a new ribbon, called the Distinguished Warfare Medal that will be given for "extra achievement" related to a military operation. That would include drone pilots operating unmanned planes from halfway around the world, or even hackers who launch a successful cyberattack on an enemy. Unlike all other combat-related medals, this would be the first one that you can be awarded without actually putting your life on the line.
While the move will undoubtedly rankle some of the infantrymen and Special Forces veterans who get shot at on a near daily basis during their combat deployments, the Pentagon is eager to find some way to recognize the achievements of those who are fighting modern battles, but just happen to be doing so from a computer lab or flight simulator instead of the war zone. Since a growing number of military operations don't actually call on soldiers, sailors, or pilots to risk their lives anymore, the Armed Forces are not handing out as many of their more traditional combat medals as they used. Despite being perpetually at war since 2001, there have only been 10 Medals of Honor given out since the September 11 attacks, and the number of Navy and Air Force Crosses awarded has actually declined.
Yet a successful drone pilot creating air cover for a squadron on the ground can save just as many lives as one who takes a bullet for fellow solider. That's not the same level of heroism, obviously, but it only seems fair that they get some recognition for their contributions. And "real pilots" will still insist that they not share the same medal with drone operators. As one Air Force colonel told Politico last year, "The basic fact of the matter is no one is shooting back at you. That makes a big difference. Combat pilots respect drone pilots, but I think we'd be uneasy about it if they were to get the same award."
There were rumblings about a new award as early as last summer, and now it appears to be a #SlatePitch come to life. The Distinguished Warfare Medal would be the first combat-award created by the Armed Forces since World War II, and would become the fourth-highest ranking combat decoration. (It would rank above the Bronze Star, but below the Silver Star.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may announce the new medal as soon as today.