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BOLGIANO AND TAYLOR: In the drone wars, everyone gets a medal

Obama’s military confuses honor with bravery

- - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Before stepping down from his post last month as secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta announced the creation of a new medal -- the Distinguished Warfare Medal -- to be given to drone pilots and other cyberwarriors for "flying" missions from the cool confines of locations such as Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. On Tuesday, new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a 30-day review of the medal, in the face of public outrage. Scraping the surface off this action is revealing of the administration's efforts to emasculate our armed forces. It has potentially far-reaching implications, not only for individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but also for the continued defense of our nation.

The new medal now under review would be ranked above both the Bronze Star with Combat "V" and the Purple Heart. Mr. Panetta, who previously served as CIA director, said in a statement that he had "seen first-hand how modern tools like remotely piloted platforms and cybersystems have changed the way wars can be fought, changed the course of battle even from afar." Also touting the need for the medal, Air Force Maj. Dave Blair, an MQ-18 Hummingbird (drone) instructor pilot and AC-130U pilot argued in Air & Space Power Journal for a combat medal for drone operators, claiming that there had been no way previously to honor the efforts of the technicians with a military decoration.

Both Mr. Panetta and Maj. Blair are wrong, but for different reasons.

The military historically has honored service members for meritorious achievement in noncombat settings with awards like the Meritorious Service Medal and Legion of Merit. Maj. Blair is mistaking "honor" for "bravery." Hopefully, all of us in the service strive to serve honorably every day of our lives. All of us are not given the opportunity -- nor do we possess the right skills -- to serve bravely, however. Moreover, even if given the opportunity, we may fail. That is why the Bronze Star with "V" for valor and the Soldier's Medal mean something. Lastly, most of those who are in units, including conventional combat arms units at the tip of the spear, are not there for the badges and medals.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Great Britain do not feel the need to get a medal for every act of achievement or service. Rightly, they see it as just quietly and professionally doing their duty. Sadly, many Americans feel a growing sense of entitlement to both awards and badges. Thus, we see Combat Action Badges, Sapper Tabs, Iraqi Campaign Medals, Afghan Campaign Medals and now this latest act of self-indulgence, the Distinguished Warfare Medal.

Mr. Panetta's comments, however, are demonstrative of a more serious problem: We truly have a Nero as commander in chief.

History will remember three things about President Obama's impact on the military: forcing the acceptance of open homosexuality, mandating that combat arms branches accept women, and the degradation of heroism by inclusion and collectivism.

The socialist levelers currently in power cannot understand or abide the inescapable truth that some deeds -- and some people -- are more worthy than others. Thus, the levelers desperately seek ways of deconstructing the institutions and traditions that cherish and celebrate such deeds and such men. At its heart, liberalism, progressivism, socialism, fascism or Marxism -- call it what you will -- is simply an ideological system built upon envy and resentment.

By further watering down decorations for physical bravery and courage, the administration has attacked the traditional role of men in the infantry, special operations forces and other combat arms in a cynical ploy to show people how much 21st century warfare has changed. They now aim to prove that putting women in ground combat and allowing open homosexuals to serve have no impact on war's pursuits. This newest award for drone operators will allow women and homosexuals to better compete with men for positions of higher rank, since this "combat" award would be ranked higher than a Bronze Star or Purple Heart. It removes the physical element -- something at which heterosexual men typically excel.

Lastly, this award symbolizes selfishness and lack of humility. In a short but powerful book, "Created for Greatness," author and ethicist Alexandre Havard comments on virtuous leadership:

"Magnanimity and humility are inextricably linked. They constitute a unique ideal: the ideal of the dignity and greatness of man. Magnanimity affirms our own personal dignity and greatness; humility affirms the dignity and greatness of others.

"Magnanimity (i.e., greatness of heart), and humility are the fruits of a true appreciation of the value of man; pusillanimity (i.e., smallness of heart), which prevents man from understanding himself; and pride, which prevents him from understanding others, stem from a false appreciation of man's value. Leadership is a life ideal, which recognizes, assimilates and propagates the truth about man."

By diluting the acts of brave men, Mr. Obama has again shown that he is a pusillanimous person, whom history will recognize as the tyrant he has become. Hopefully, the military will be able to reverse these errant regulations when his reign is over.

David Bolgiano, a retired Army War College instructor and former paratrooper, is co-author of "Fighting Today's Wars" (Stackpole, 2012). G. John Taylor is a retired paratrooper and former legal adviser for 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force).