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Hagel launches review of medals process

Mar. 20, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Defense Secreteary Chuck Hagel has formally launched a high-level review of the entire medals and awards system that will look at how to honor drone pilots and cyberwarriors as well as several other issues.
Defense Secreteary Chuck Hagel has formally launched a high-level review of the entire medals and awards system that will look at how to honor drone pilots and cyberwarriors as well as several other issues. (Staff)
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The vexing question of how to honor drone pilots and cyberwarriors is prompting a Pentagon-level review of the entire military awards system.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former infantry sergeant who was wounded twice in Vietnam, has been dragging his feet on the issue of high-tech valor ever since he halted production of the controversial Distinguished Warfare Medal nearly a year ago.

Derisively dubbed the “Nintendo Medal,” the DWM was approved by Hagel’s predecessor and designed to recognize troops who have an impact on the battlefield remotely, through drone operations, cyberwarfare and other means.

The controversy was fueled by the medal’s proposed placement in the official order of precedence — it would have ranked above the Bronze Star, awarded for acts of valor under fire.

Scrapping the DWM was among Hagel’s first acts after his arrival in the Pentagon last year. He initially said he would replace it with a “distinguishing device” that would attach to an existing medal. But he missed his self-imposed three-month deadline and has said little about the issue since.

But on Thursday, Hagel formally launched a high-level review of the entire medals and awards system that will look at how to honor drone pilots and cyberwarriors as well as several other issues.

“This review will primarily focus on combat and valor awards to determine if the program adequately recognizes all levels of combat valor and ... [is] properly aligned with the joint nature of warfare,” Hagel wrote in a March 20 letter to the top brass. “Additionally, the review will determine how best to recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations.”

The review will also look at “how to make the awards process more timely,” a Pentagon spokesman said. The current system has been criticized for taking too long, resulting in high-level awards granted after troops have redeployed, changed units or separated from the military.

The review will also look at whether there are discrepancies in how the services handle awards. For example, some medals experts say the Marine Corps holds a higher standard for combat valor medals than the other services.

“Are there seams between the services that can be closed or not?” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Hagel “recognizes that it is by nature, and will always be, a subjective process. But I think he wants to have a better understanding of that process,” Kirby said.

The review comes on the heels of an unrelated forcewide reassessment of past medal recipients to determine whether some former service members were shortchanged due to discrimination for race or religion.

The Army identified 24 veterans who deserved upgrades to the Medal of Honor, but the other services identified none. Kirby said that discrepancy influenced Hagel’s decision to launch a review.

The now-defunct DWM was the first new forcewide medal recognizing combat achievement since the Bronze Star was created in 1944. The Air Force, which has struggled to retain drone pilots, was particularly supportive of the new medal.

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