April 1, 2013  

To Leon Panetta

For approving the new Distinguished Warfare Medal

During his last month as defense secretary. The award, meant to honor UAV operators and cyber warriors for extraordinary achievement, is set in precedence ahead of the Bronze Star.

There’s no question that some UAV pilots and some cyber warriors have indeed made greater contributions to the war effort than some muddy-boots warriors, including some who received the Bronze Star. The real problem is that the new award is entirely unnecessary.

Just as a Marine can be awarded a variety of medals for a variety of actions and achievements, from a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement or Commendation Medal to a Medal of Honor, so, too, might a UAV pilot or cyber warrior perform combat duties that range broadly in meaning and value. It makes no sense to define all such achievements equally.

The reason we have so many different combat awards is that a hierarchy is in place, built over time, that helps match actions to appropriate awards. What’s needed now is not a new award but clear guidance on how to recognize high-tech combat achievements using the awards we already have.