Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta during an interview with The Associated Press on Dec. 15, 2010.

Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta during an interview with The Associated Press on Dec. 15, 2010. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

‘Comprehensive Review’ of Military Medals to Begin in June

Why? Drones, for one thing. By Ben Watson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a full appraisal of military decorations and awards, with particular emphasis on how to recognize contributions from troops conducting drone and cyber warfare, to begin in June.

The order follows more than a year of controversy over the Distinguished Warfare Medal, or DWM, a new award introduced by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to recognize drone operators – or officially, “extraordinary achievement, not involving acts of valor” and which “intentionally does not include a geographic limitation,” according to a DOD memo at the time.

After cancelling that idea, Hagel now is hoping to find the best way to recognize those achievements resulting from this new standard for 21st century warfare, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

“Secretary Hagel directed the department to conduct a comprehensive review of its military decorations and awards program, incorporating lessons over the past 13 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kirby said. In a reflection of the growing use of unmanned vehicles across all of the military services on the battlefield, Kirby said the secretary’s review will also “determine the best way to recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations.”

Acting Undersecretary of Defense and Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright will work closely with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey in the review process. “Given the secretary’s desire to do this thoroughly and get it right,” said Kirby, “he has given them a deadline of the 1st of June, 2015.”

Getting it right became one of the first tasks Hagel inherited from Panetta last year.  Critics immediately ridiculed the new award with nicknames like the “Nintendo Medal” and the “Golden Xbox Controller,” among others. Members of Congress strongly opposed the DWM, too, including it’s given rank among other recognitions requiring service in combat. Thirty-four Republican and 15 Democratic House members wrote a joint letter to Hagel just weeks after he succeeded Panetta, saying, “While we applaud the intent of the medal, we do not agree with placing the DWM above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the order of precedent.”

The lawmakers referred to the new medal a “disservice to Purple Heart recipients who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country or were wounded while serving in combat.” Nearly a month after receipt of the letter, Hagel instructed the DWM be swapped out in favor of an accessory device, the military’s add-on to certain medals, similar to bronze or silver oak-leaf clusters given to signify multiple awards of single type, or the  “V” device pinned to some ribbons to recognize valorous acts.

Yet in the more than ten months since Hagel swapped the medal for a device, the business of recognizing faraway battlefield contributors remains a charged and unfinished matter. Pentagon officials appear interested in showing it learned its lesson from last year’s dust-up with lawmakers, but will come up with its own solution.

“We’ll work in concert with the Congress as we go through this review, keep them fully informed,” Kirby said. “But I think this is something the secretary really wants to handle as much as he can in-house right now and just get a better handle on it.”