- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of a new medal for drone pilots and cyberwarriors that has angered combat veterans for its ranking higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will conduct the review of the Distinguished Warfare Medal and report to Mr. Hagel in 30 days, a Pentagon spokesman said, adding that production of the new medal has been halted.

Mr. Hagel’s predecessor, Leon E. Panetta, introduced the medal last month to recognize the contributions of cyber- and drone-combatants who conduct their missions from stations outside of war zones.

It drew immediate and intense criticism and ridicule from combat veterans for its ranking above the Bronze Star, which is awarded for extraordinary service in a combat zone, and the Purple Heart, which is bestowed on service members who are wounded in combat.

Examples of those eligible for the Distinguished Warfare Medal include service members who maneuver Predator drones over Afghanistan or Pakistan from the shelter of an air base, and computer operators who counter cyberattacks.

“In light of concerns about the medal’s place in the order of precedence, Secretary Hagel will work with the senior leadership to review the order of precedence and associated matters,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday.

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On Friday, a bipartisan group of 22 senators sent a letter to Mr. Hagel, urging him to lower the prestige rating of the Distinguished Warfare Medal — which some critics have ridiculed as the “Nintendo Medal,” after the computer gaming system.

“We believe that medals earned in combat, or in dangerous conditions, should maintain their precedence above non-combat awards,” the senators wrote. “Placing the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart diminishes the significance of awards earned by risking one’s life in direct combat or through acts of heroism.”

The senators’ letter followed a similar letter sent to the Defense Department a week earlier by about 50 House members.

In addition, an online petition to the White House called for the new medal to be lowered in precedence. As of Tuesday, the petition had collected nearly 18,500 signatures.

Any petition receiving more than 100,000 signatories in 30 days elicits a White House response. The 30-day period for the Distinguished Warfare Medal ends Saturday.

Mr. Hagel, who was awarded two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, “believes that it’s prudent to take into account those concerns and conduct this review,” the Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday. “His style as a leader is to be a decisive leader and also to be a ready listener, and I think that contributed to the decision to initiate this review.”

• Kristina Wong can be reached at kwong@washingtontimes.com.

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