EDITORIAL: Good riddance to a medal

Remote-control skill does not compare to valor under fire

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This administration certainly loves drones, but even that ardent passion has limits. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday put a stop to production of a medal that was to be awarded to drone operators, and not a moment too soon.

It wasn’t just the idea of the Distinguished Warfare Medal that offended good sense. The real outrage was ignited by the goofy idea to give it precedence over medals awarded for bravery and valor. The Distinguished Warfare Medal would outrank the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Air Force, Army and Navy/Marine Commendation Medals for valor.

It’s hard to imagine such a bizarre idea coming from anywhere but this White House, where ignorance often trumps good sense. Nobody who has served in uniform, who has survived through enemy fire (or even read about valor and heroism) would have thought such a medal a good idea. Drone operators can strike anywhere in the world with a flick of a mouse, working in the air-conditioned comfort of secure military bases in the United States or Europe. They require great skill and dexterity and they serve with honor, but risk no more than carpal tunnel syndrome or a blister on a thumb as they manipulate a videogame-style controller. That holds no comparison to a soldier risking life and limb on the battlefield.

National Commander John Hamilton of the Veterans of Foreign Wars channeled the collective feeling of his organization’s 1.9 million members in hammering the department to reconsider. “The VFW just adamantly believes that medals that can only be earned in combat must rank higher than new medals awarded [for service] in the rear,” Mr. Hamilton wrote.

The lobbying effort persuaded Mr. Hagel, a combat veteran of the Vietnam war. “He’s heard their concerns, he’s heard the concerns of others,” said Defense Department spokesman George Little. “He believes it’s prudent to take into account those concerns and conduct this review.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey was told he has 30 days to re-evaluate every aspect of the bad idea — from the name of the medal to its order of precedence — and report back with a recommendation. The medal was torpedoed before anyone could be nominated to receive one.

Mr. Hagel was likely even more sensitive to the backlash from Capitol Hill. Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, had prepared legislation to lower the rank of precedence of the drone medal. A veteran who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Hunter was outraged by the lack of sensitivity shown by those who approved the medal. Twenty-two senators — mostly Democrats — had also written Mr. Hagel to protest the medal. “We believe that medals earned in combat, or in dangerous conditions, should maintain their precedence above non-combat awards,” they wrote.

Congressional rebuke would have made for an embarrassing start to Mr. Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon; he did the right thing, and quickly, and we applaud him. It’s not clear whether remote-controlled valor or skill with a videogame controller is something that needs to be recognized with a medal at all.

It was only last week that the White House finally conceded that it does not have the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil. Given this setback with the Distinguished Warfare Medal, perhaps the administration and its drones should spend a little time apart.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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