Top military affairs senators ask Chuck Hagel to downgrade new Distinguished Warfare Medal

The Senate’s top leaders on military affairs added their voices Monday to the list of lawmakers asking the Pentagon to rethink its plans for a new military medal to honor drone pilots and cyber­warriors who work far from the battlefield.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, said that the new Distinguished Warfare Medal should not be ranked higher than combat awards, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

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“Although we are supportive of this new medal, we are concerned that it is given precedence above awards earned by service members for actions on the battlefield,” Levin and Inhofe wrote.

Appealing to Hagel’s service record as an enlisted combat soldier who received two Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam, they warned that the current status of the medal would probably cause an “adverse impact to morale,” a complaint already voiced by veterans groups.

West Virginia Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III and Jay Rockefeller sent Hagel the same message last Friday in a letter signed by nine other lawmakers from both parties.

Former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta announced the new medal last month, saying it would provide “distinct, department­wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the criteria would be “highly selective and reflect high standards.”

But the announcement was immediately met by complaints from critics who dubbed the award “the Nintendo medal.”

Although drone pilots and cyberwarriors play an increasingly large part in U.S. military operations, they generally operate from U.S.-based computer screens inside air-conditioned offices.

Bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to downgrade the medal.

Pentagon spokesmen were not immediately available to respond to the new round of criticism.

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