SHAKO: New Medal for Drone Pilots and Cyber Warriors Sparks Controversy

February 21, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Medal Mishigas *

The Defense Warfare Medal (Courtesy of the Defense Dept.)

The Defense Warfare Medal (Defense Dept. photo)

You’ve probably heard by now that the Defense Department has created a new commendation medal for  members of the military who do extraordinary things off the battlefield. The pilots of unmanned aircraft and cybersecurity/cyberwarfare operators come to mind.

At his last official press briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 13, retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the creation of the new Defense Warfare Medal, saying it “recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought.  And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar,” Panetta said.

Now the DWM will provide “distinct department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails,” he added.

According to the Defense Department,  the Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps “whose extraordinary achievements, regardless of their distance to the traditional combat theater, deserve distinct department-wide recognition.”

In the hierarchy of military awards, the DWM is slated to rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star medal. Both of those medals may be awarded for acts of heroism or acts of merit. When awarded for heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” for valor device.

But that hierarchical placement has veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — up in arms. Many of their members feel the new medal’s standing diminishes older medals like the Purple Heart, the decoration given to those wounded in battle.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the criteria for the award “will be highly selective and reflect high standards.”

But critics say a medal for singular service far behind the lines should not take precedence over a valor medal like the Bronze Star.

But at a blogger’s roundtable this week (Feb. 20), a Pentagon official tried to set the record straight.

Juliet Beyler, acting director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, noted that only about 2 percent of the Bronze Stars awarded since 9/11 came with the “V” device. “So by far the vast majority of Bronze Stars are not issued with the “V” device,” said Beyler, a retired Marine Corps combat engineer officer who served two tours in Iraq.  She added that there are have been several medals “far lower in precedence that are also eligible to have a ‘V’ device.”

There are only three medals awarded solely for valor: the Medal of Honor; the services crosses (Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross); and the Silver Star medal. There are other medals like the Legion of Merit which are higher in precedence than the Bronze Star but they are for meritorious service over a period of time like 24 months, she said.

A blogger from the American Legion wondered why the new medal was created instead of awarding non-combat zone troops an existing decoration like the Meritorius Service Medal.

Beyler said the Defense Department wanted to “recognize distinct impacts on combat operations.” She added that the Defense Warfare Medal concept was vetted and approved by Dempsey and the other members of the Joint Chiefs as well as by the secretaries of the Army, Navy (who also oversees the Marine Corps) and Air Force. Those service secretaries will determine who receives the new medal, which won’t be ready for distribution for several months. No one has been cited for the DWM yet.
*For the uninitiated, mishigas is a Yiddish word that can mean ‘craziness’ or ‘nonsense.’


SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, News Developments, SHAKO, Skills and Training, Traditions, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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February 2013


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