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Military Medal for Drone Warfare to Be Reviewed by Hagel

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, received two Purple Hearts for his service as an Army sergeant in Vietnam. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the Pentagon to examine whether a new medal for drone operators and cyberwarriors should be downgraded so it doesn’t outrank traditional awards for heroism and combat wounds.

The rank of the Distinguished Warfare Medal has set off protests from lawmakers and veterans’ groups since it was created last month by Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta. Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the medal shouldn’t rank higher than those for action on the battlefield, such as the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

“In light of concerns about the medal’s place in the order of precedence, Secretary Hagel will work with the senior leadership to review the order of precedence and associated matters,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said today at a news conference.

The Pentagon created the medal to recognize the changing nature of 21-century warfare, in which unmanned aircraft and cyberwarfare are playing increasingly important roles. The Defense Department said it wanted to honor troops with special training and skills that “directly and precisely impact military operations at times far removed from the battlefield,” according to a statement last month.

The review Hagel ordered, to be led by Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be completed in 30 days, according to Little, who said Panetta was notified of the decision.

Production Stopped

“Production of the medal has stopped,” Little said. “No one has been nominated for this medal. No one is in training for this medal. So we do have time to make a final decision.”

House and Senate members have already introduced bills that would reduce the new medal’s ranking.

“We know that overruling a predecessor’s decision puts Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel into an uncomfortable position, but it is the absolute right thing to do for the troops,” said John Hamilton, head of the two-million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars, in a written statement last week. “Medals that can only be earned in combat must mean more than new medals awarded in the rear.”

Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, received two Purple Hearts for his service as an Army sergeant in Vietnam.

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