More than 5,000 people have signed a petition urging the White House to lower the ranking of a new medal for drone pilots and cyberwarfare specialists that has drawn criticism for its ranking above the Bronze Star.
“Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground,” the petition posted on the White House website says.
The Washington Times first reported Friday that some warriors inside the Pentagon were questioning and mocking Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s decision last week to create the Distinguished Warfare Medal for cyber- and drone-combatants who sit inside stations outside a war zone.
The new medal recognizes “extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but do not involve acts of valor or physical risks that combat entails.” It ranks just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and just above the Bronze Star, which is awarded for extraordinary service to combatants in an actual war zone.
“This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned,” the petition says of the Distinguished Warfare Medal.
The petition was created Thursday, a day after Mr. Panetta announced the new medal. On Monday, it had more than 5,000 signatures.
Any petition receiving more than 100,000 signatories in 30 days elicits a White House response.
In what likely will be his final news conference as defense secretary, Mr. Panetta on Wednesday announced his decision to create the medal as keeping pace with today’s technologies.
“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cybersystems, have changed the way wars are fought,” he said. “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”
But the announcement has made him the brunt of jokes about the medal’s high placement on the prestige list.
“I suppose now they will award Purple Hearts for carpal tunnel syndrome,” said a retired Green Beret who does contract work for the Pentagon.
Examples of those eligible for the new medal include service members who operate Predator drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan from the shelter of an air base, and military computer whizzes who defeat cyberattacks by China.
— Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.