Drone pilots are doing an important work.
So are the cyber guys, trying to keep the Chinese at bay.
And they should be awarded for their services. They should receive medals. They should be honored with medals currently available, and it would be consistent with past military practice to create a new medal to honor their unique contributions.
But it should not be a combat medal.
And it should not be higher in precedence than a combat medal.
The issue is raised by departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who, on his way out the door, has commissioned a Distinguished Warfare Medal for presentation to those who fight long distance, via joystick or computer code.
Again, drone pilots and hackers can be crucial in advancing our national interests. They can save lives and defend the country. There is no question whatsoever about their importance.
But though they engage in combat, they are not in combat. They can kill, but they cannot be killed. At no point in the normal conduct of their duties are they in any danger.
And that element of danger is essential to true courage, and true battle.
And it is a trump card in the valuation of military honors.
Or at least it should be.
No matter what Leon Panetta said.
Because the problem with his new medal is that he has put it higher in the order of precedence that governs military decorations than genuine combat medals.
Like the Bronze Star your father got in Vietnam or your brother got in Iraq.
Or even the Purple Heart your grandfather got in France.
Flying a remote-controlled plane from an Air National Guard base in Syracuse does not deserve to be honored more than meritoriously engaging in actual battle in Afghanistan.
Both are honorable, one is more dangerous. One requires greater courage. One is dramatically more demanding.
Good hand-eye coordination doesn’t outrank sleeping on the ground and suffering privation and exchanging fire with men intent on killing you. Being an infantryman and spending a year in country and getting a Bronze Star is not inferior to sitting on your arse writing a computer code or wiggling a joystick.
Again, no disrespect to drone pilots and cyber warriors. But in honoring them, we must not dishonor others. Do not put some down in order to lift others up.
To think that a Bronze Star, a medal for battlefield distinction, should be below the drone medal is offensive to all the American heroes who have earned the Bronze Star.
That is even more true for Bronze Star recipients who have earned the medal with the V device – for valor.
It is worth nothing that the Bronze Star is often awarded posthumously, something which would not conceivably be said of the drone medal. Earning the Bronze Medal can get you killed, earning the drone medal cannot.
Furthermore, to place the drone medal higher in precedence than the Purple Heart, the medal given to Americans wounded in combat, is disrespectful and illogical.
Yet that is what this administration has done.
This is the same administration which denied medals to the shooting victims at Fort Hood but awarded them to the shooting victims at Sandy Hook.
This is the same administration that has overstretched and underfunded the military, forced upon it an alien culture and weakened it as a defender of our freedom and bulwark of our society.
So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised they screwed up the drone medal.
They’ve screwed up everything else.