The Pentagon is creating the Distinguished Service Medal to recognize troops in high-tech career fields who affect the battlefield without actually being in theater. ()
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A trio of Republican lawmakers moved Tuesday to prevent the Defense Department from establishing the Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone operators as an award that ranks higher than the Bronze Star or Purple Heart.
Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Timothy Murphy of Pennsylvania and Tom Rooney of Florida, introduced H.R. 833, a rare bill that tells the Defense Department how to set the precedence of medals. While introduced as a stand-alone bill, there is a strong chance the legislation will end up as an amendment to the 2014 defense authorization bill, congressional sources said.
The Defense Department's announcement that the new Distinguished Warfare Medal for operators of unmanned aerial vehicles would rank above awards for ground combat troops has drawn criticism from combat veterans.
On Tuesday morning, the national commander of the 2.4 million-member American Legion, the nation's largest veterans groups, urged Legionnaires to include complaints about the medal in conversations with lawmakers.
Hunter, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, said there is a difference between direct combat and flying a drone from a safe location. "Those engaged in direct combat put their lives on the line, accepting extraordinary personal risk," Hunter said. "There is nothing wrong with having a military award that recognizes commendable actions off the battlefield, but it's absolutely necessary to ensure that combat valor awards are not diminished in any way."
Rooney, an Army veteran, said he has "grave concerns" about the ranking of the new medal. "There is no greater sacrifice than risking your own life to save another on the battlefield, and the order of precedence should appropriately reflect the reverence we hold for those willing to make that sacrifice."
Murphy, who served in the Navy, said the legislation would not be necessary if the Pentagon would, on its own, reduce the ranking of the award. "If the Pentagon will not reconsider the decision to rank this medal above the Purple Heart, the House will take action."