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YEAR IN REVIEW

Drone medal fails to take off

The Distinguished Warfare Medal, which could go to servicemembers who never set foot in a combat zone, but launch drone strikes or cyberattacks that kill or disable an enemy.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 29, 2013

It was game over for the Pentagon’s “Nintendo medal” before it ever got off the ground.

In February, Pentagon officials unveiled plans for a new valor award: the Distinguished Warfare Medal, designed to honor “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other off-site troops performing noteworthy deeds on far-away battlefields.

Critics immediately derided the award as “the Purple Buttocks” and little more than a video game achievement honor.

Several veterans groups backed the idea of a new medal for those little-recognized contributors, but most were appalled that the honor would have ranked immediately below the Distinguished Flying Cross in the order of precedence — higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, awards given for battlefield heroism.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was sworn into office in late February, and within a few weeks promised a full review into the award. By April, he ended the idea.

Instead of a new medal, Hagel authorized a new device to be affixed to existing military medals, specifically honoring drone pilots and other off-site operators who are “critical to our military’s mission of safeguarding the nation.”

Lawmakers and veterans groups praised the backtracking as a recognition of the unique danger and sacrifice of battlefield troops.

shane.leo@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeoShane