Pentagon Says 'Drone Medal' Beats Purple Heart, Bronze Star

DoD rejects call by lawmakers to demote Distinguished Warfare Medal.

This photo taken June 6, 2012 and provided by the Defense Department shows a student pilot and sensor operator man the controls of a MQ-9 Reaper in a ground-based cockpit during a training mission flown from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York.

Lawmakers say the recently-created Distinguished Warfare Medal should not be considered more prestigious than the Purple Heart.

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The Pentagon says there are no plans to downgrade the recently-created Distinguished Warfare Medal, which would be awarded to military drone pilots, despite a recent push from lawmakers who say it should not be considered more prestigious than the Purple Heart.

In a bipartisan letter written to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Democratic Rep. Susan Davis of California write that they "cannot support the [medal] taking precedence above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart," which is awarded to soldiers who are injured in combat.

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"The current order of precedence for the DWM is a disservice to Purple Heart recipients who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country or were wounded while serving in combat," they write. "We also feel it is a disservice to our service members and veterans who have, or who currently are, serving overseas in hostile and austere conditions."

But Nathan Christenson, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, says the new medal is here to stay.

"The medal was unanimously recommended by the Chairman and Joint Chiefs to the Secretary of Defense," he says. "While we understand the concerns of veterans groups, there are no plans to change its order of precedence."

The Distinguished Warfare Medal, or "Drone Medal" was announced by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on February 13 as an "avenue to recognize appropriately extraordinary direct impacts on combat operations warranting recognition above the Bronze Star Medal."

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According to the Department of Defense, the medal "may not be awarded for valor in combat under any circumstances" and will be given to service members "directly impacting 'hands-on' employment of a weapons system, including remote employment … that had direct, immediate, and on-site effects on the outcome of an engagement."

Most Air Force drone pilots, for example, fly their planes over Afghanistan and Pakistan from air conditioned trailers at a base in Nevada. So far, the medal has not yet been awarded to any troops.

Christensen says he's unsure whether Hagel will respond to the lawmakers.

"The secretary handles his own correspondence," he says. "It'd be inappropriate to comment on whether he'll respond directly or not."

Caroline Delleney, communications director for Rep. Wilson, wrote in an email to U.S. News that they had not heard back from Hagel, but that they "hope he will respond in the next few weeks."

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