The Washington Post

Drone pilots to get medals?

An armed Predator drone at the Kandahar military airfield in Afghanistan. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)

The Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield.

Pentagon officials have been briefed on the medal’s “unique concept,” Charles V. Mugno, head of the Army Institute of Heraldry, told a recent meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts, according to a report in Coin World by our former colleague Bill McAllister.

Mugno said most combat decorations require “boots on the ground” in a combat zone, but he noted that “emerging technologies” such as drones and cyber combat missions are now handled by troops far removed from combat.

The Pentagon has not formally endorsed the medal, but Mugno’s institute has completed six alternate designs for commission approval.

The notion of greater recognition for drone pilots has been percolating for some time. Air Force Maj. Dave Blair, writing in the May-June issue of the Air & Space Power Journal, asked how much difference there is in terms of risk “between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles.”

A “manned aircraft . . . that scrapes the top of a combat zone, well outside the range of any realistic threat” is deemed in “combat,” Blair writes, but a Predator firing a missile is considered “combat support.”

The proposed medal would rank between the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier’s Medal for exceptional conduct outside a combat zone.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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