Pentagon to reconsider medals for UAV pilots and cyber warriors

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a comprehensive review of the military decorations and awards program that will reconsider allowing drone operators and cyber warriors to be eligible to receive medals.

The one-year review, which will begin in June under Acting Undersecretary of Defense Jessica L. Wright, will consider the lessons of the last 13 years of combat in an effort to improve the program. Among the topics to be considered is whether the program reflects the joint nature of today’s operations.

The goal of the review is to ensure that the awards program appropriately recognizes all levels of combat valor, said Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.

“It will examine the processes and procedures of how medals for valor are nominated in order to determine whether they can be improved or streamlined and help make the overall awards process more timely,” Kirby said, “and it will determine the best way to recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations, such as through cyber and remotely piloted aircraft.”

In 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that a Distinguished Warfare Medal had been created for UAV pilots and cyber warriors. Veterans and politicians heavily criticized the medal for ranking above the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart, both of which are earned in direct combat.

Designed to recognize soldiers who have an “extraordinary impact on combat operations” remotely, the medal was quickly retired by Hagel after he took office. DOD instead opted for the creation of a distinguishing device that could be added onto existing medals.

The review would reexamine that decision. “That's part of the review, whether or not we should have a special device to go on another ribbon or [a new] medal," Kirby said, as reported by

The review also would try to improve on existing nomination processes and procedures, and determine whether the program is too service-centric as joint military operations become more prevalent.

“You don't have to look any farther than what we accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how joint the services have become,” Kirby said, “and I think it's a fair question to ask: Do we need to look at the kinds of awards that we give, particularly for combat valor, in a more joint nature than perhaps some of them are? It doesn’t mean that there will be changes, but I think he wants to look at everything across the whole scope.”

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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