Yesterday the Pentagon announced the first new combat related medal that can be won without being physically present in a battlefield. The Distinguished Warfare Medal "will be awarded to individuals for 'extraordinary achievement' related to a military operation that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001." It is expected that these will primarily be awarded to drone pilots (though the possibility of an extraordinary achievement in cyber war exists).
Reaction to the medal has understandably focused on how the potential recipients can "earn the fourth highest combat medal from the comfort of their desk chair," to quote one commentator, but there is something missing from that perspective. Though physically removed, drone pilots are not as separate from combat as we commonly think.
Last July, reporter Elisabeth Bumiller took a closer look at the human side of unmanned operations. She writes:
If drone warfare were as easy on the pilots as quips about leather-chair warriors imply, the pilots wouldn't have much need for immediate mental health support. Evidence suggest otherwise. An Associated Press story from 2008 observes that a unit of Air National guardsmen piloting drones from Southern California "are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield." Given that remotely piloting drones in war is likely to remain a part of how the United States fights wars for decades to come, it's important to pay attention to the mental health problems that come with the territory.
And if we're acknowledging that drone pilots can experience trauma from 7,000 miles away, shouldn't we make some room for heroism, too?
I totally agree that drone pilots should receive recognition for their contributions. They undeniably play an invaluable role in today's modern battlefield. That being said, I do however take issue with the "Drone Medal" taking precedence over the Bronze Star (with V device) which is rewarded for actual acts of valor when the recipients life was put on the line.
The way that the Pentagon is going about this is a total slap in the face to actual combat veterans who have risked life and limb on the battlefield.
I'm sorry, as a ex-Aerial Gunner who flew over the Op, being shot and returning fire, this is ridiculous. A drone pilot is essentially playing a video game out of harms way. They knew what they were getting into so I find it hard to believe they're getting PTSD from a screen, escpecially since they're barely used in actually delivering their ordinance, and after they get to go home when so many others in real combat cannot. 4th highest medal is just outrageous and offensive. These guys were originally trying to get the regular Combat Action Medal and were denied so no doubt the pencil pushers wined and complained and rationalized this poo.
I can understand the need for recognition, but this is too much. You can't compare someone who risks losing his life at around every corner to someone who sits behind a monitor risking nothing. I highly doubt they are suffering from the psychological stresses.
So, the MSM was not good enough?
@bgdavison - "So, the MSM was not good enough?"
Apparently not. In the Air Force you have operators and non-operators. The operators make up the vast majority of the leadership and can often be prejudiced of non-operators. The phenomenon is often referred to as the "zipper suit mafia".
Drone pilots are operators. But since they cannot qualify for an Airman's Medal, which would require them to actually risk their life, they had to create a special award that a non-operator couldn't get. And, of course, this new award has to be of higher precedence than a MSN, because "anybody" can get one of those.
It's sad, but this is just an ego stroke for those pilots that weren't good enough to be assigned an aircraft with an actual cockpit.
@ b.a.baracas and democedes
I believe that the drone pilots are a good thing. First of all, the pilots are out of harms way (Thats a good thing, right?) Second, they are facing traumatic experiences by having to watch if their fellow soldiers die or being wounded in combat. (remember these guys are watching the battlefield) So I think they should get a metal. But I also must say that the placement of the rank of this metal is a bit high for this.
Oh and, "It's sad, but this is just an ego stroke for those pilots that weren't good enough to be assigned an aircraft with an actual cockpit." is NOT true. They serve our country just like all soldiers.
What about those generals that got medals while being away from the battlefields?
I have nothing to do with drone piloting or the war, but I believe that the drone pilots produce achievements and casualties like any other soldiers.
@Rocker56045 "(remember these guys are watching the battlefield)"
So if I watch youtube videos of the war I can have a combat medal too?
Seriously though, if they have PTSD, give them a purple heart, not an Air Force Cross equivilant medal.
"They serve our country just like all soldiers."
So why can't they accept the same medals as other soldiers? They want something more than other soldiers get. That's the issue.
Below is a list of citations for real Air Force Cross medals earned. Read them and tell me a drone pilot deserves the same level of honor.
02/14/13 at 1:36 pm
Then this medal should apply to technicians and operators a like, I imagine. But in reality, I doubt they will be considered.
This award is more about politics for drone technology and less about being supportive of the military recognition of performance. It leaves off to many others for consideration in the military.
The eligibility requirements are posted at:
It can apply to "that had direct, immediate, and on-site effects on the outcome of an engagement or other operation intended to have an effect upon the target"
The DWM isn't equivalent to the Air Force Cross. It is below the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The above is an example of what an RPA operator could do: provide combat search & rescue of downed airmen while also providing close air support.
Assuming an RPA operator could meet the requirements of the Air Force Cross, they should be allowed to apply for it.
The President may award an Air Force cross of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a medal of honor—
(1) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
(2) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
(3) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
They had this thing at the end of WWII as well, with Combat Infantry medals.
Drone operators are LOGISTICS. Not Combat. There hasn't been one shot in the face yet, correct? No one has lost a tooth or gotten a heavy sprain for their drone getting shot down? The drone might be currently tasked for tactical combat operations, but their primary purpose is data gathering. Support for combat ops. Medals for achievement or performance should be reflective of the services or activities they represent.
No One should receive a combat medal without real risk of life and limb.