WASHINGTON - The military's new medal for cyber-warriors should get a demotion, according to veterans groups and lawmakers who say it shouldn't outrank such revered honors as the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
The Distinguished Warfare Medal, announced by the Defense Department two weeks ago, is a sign of the changing nature of war, in which attacks conducted remotely have played an increasingly important role in gathering intelligence and killing enemy fighters and terrorists. It will recognize extraordinary achievement related to a military operation occurring after Sept. 11, 2001.
But the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups say that ranking it ahead of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart is an injustice to those who served on the front lines.
On Wednesday, his first day on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received a letter from the VFW about the medal, the first combat-related award to be created since World War II.
John Hamilton, the group's commander in chief, said it's important to recognize drone pilots and others. "But medals that can only be earned in combat must outrank new medals earned in the rear," he said.
Members of Congress are also getting involved. Five veterans now serving in the House introduced a bill that would prohibit the Defense Department from rating the medal equal to or higher than the Purple Heart. A medal's order of precedence refers to how it is supposed to be displayed, with the Medal of Honor getting top billing among nearly 60 medals and ribbons.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said that putting oneself in harm's way automatically raises the bar for a medal in a way that others cannot match no matter what amazing things they do.
"It's still different if your lives are on the line. You got to differentiate, and we'd like DOD to do that so I don't have to do this," said Hunter, who served two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
There is no indication the Pentagon is rethinking the award or its ranking.
"The Defense Department remains committed to honoring the remotely piloted aircraft operators and the cyber-warriors as appropriate," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "This is recognition of their significant contributions and the changing nature of warfare."