I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
They sacrifice their time and sometimes their health and risk their lives so we may enjoy freedom.
The U.S. Department of Defense created the Distinguished Warfare Medal to recognize a new breed of warriors. This includes pilots of drone aircraft and cyberspace-based warfare. The medal currently takes precedence over awards like the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
A story in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported how warriors flying drone aircraft via remote control experience battle-related stress. Many launch weapons only to see a target leave the area and civilians move in. They are helpless to stop the slaughter. Even worse, due to security classification, they cannot discuss unfortunate outcomes with a spouse or with a mental health care provider.
This is not to say it happens on every strike. Many missions accomplish their goals. Several high-priority Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been killed by strikes that go according to plan. These are real contributions to the War on Terror. The world is a safer place without them. The success of these operations is worthy of recognition.
The Bronze Star is awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” device. The Purple Heart is awarded for wounds suffered in combat. It is the oldest award of the Armed Forces and was created by Gen. George Washington. Today, the medal bears Washington’s silhouette.
I cannot and will not take away the fact that cyber warfare experts and drone pilots contribute to our national security. They endure combat stress. Their contributions to the War on Terror are real and tangible. However, I cannot abide them receiving an award higher in precedence than men and women wounded in battle or displaying valor on a battlefield.
At the end of a workday, or a mission, drone pilots go home. They are not asked to serve a year of their lives in a battle theater. They have hot food. They will see their spouse and families at the end of a day.
A good friend of mine married her husband shortly before he deployed in Afghanistan. She will not see him until, possibly September. Every day, her husband faces the real possibility of combat with Taliban forces.
As my colleague David Green pointed out, until the enemy finds a way to strike back at drone control rooms or computer centers, these warriors do not face the same risks as troops in the air or on the ground. To give them an award of greater precedence than those that show heroism or have been wounded in battle is inappropriate.
As I have said before, a cousin of mine was severely wounded in Iraq. In this incident, he was awarded his second Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He earned these awards in a way that nobody operating a drone aircraft or a computer ever could. Many servicemen and women earned their decorations fighting our enemies at the risk of great personal harm or death.
Cyberspace may well be a battleground in the present and future. Drone aircraft, and potentially land vehicles may increasingly be the go-to weapon in our arsenal. Service members using these systems ensure our security and freedom, but battlefield heroism and sacrifice should not be relegated or forgotten. Warriors in harm’s way still deserve to be honored above and beyond all others. Their sacrifice demands no less.