Medals? We don’t need no stinkin’ medals! (Army Perspective)
Editor’s note: This is a hot topic, and we are fortunate enough to have pieces written from the Army Perspective as well as from the Air Force point of view. This is from an Army Vet. For the Air Force take, click here.
Sibling rivalries are always fun. Army vs. Navy, SEALs vs. Rangers, and combat arms vs. everyone else. We give each other crap and there are countless jokes over who is superior, yet at the end of the day we all play for the same team and we keep it civil. When I deployed we all laughed at the Air Force “guarding” Manas in soft caps and we complained that REMFs got hazardous duty pay. I still think its crap that a supply clerk in Kuwait gets the same bonus that my guys got in the Korengal Valley, although at least that supply clerk was away from his family and had a little hardship to burden. Who am I to deny him a few extra bucks?
Then I found out about a loophole in one combat specialty that I have zero sympathy for… Drone Pilots. These guys and gals get the same perks as the ground pounders with absolutely none of the discomfort. Discomfort is a badge of honor for everyone in the military. Infantry guys brag about sleeping in the mud or freezing their balls off, yet they always go back for more. Even the POGIEST of POGs will tell their family and friends about the discomfort they had in basic training. The more you “suck”… the cooler you are.
Drone pilots work out of an Air Force base in the United States. Their cockpits are small rooms with a series of monitors and missions can vary from firing hellfire missiles or route reconnaissance. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig and I can’t blame anyone for wanting to be a drone pilot. Hell, it’s the future of warfare. I have seen the benefits of a drone strike or the intelligence they bring to the battlefield, and it is awesome to have them on our side. Their mission isn’t my issue. My issue involves news that Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new combat medal specifically for drone pilots and those “who have a direct impact on combat operations, but do it from a far.” It will be awarded to individuals for “extraordinary achievement” related to military operations.
The new medal is unique because it is the first combat-related medal to be created since the Bronze Star in 1944. Normally, this type of award wouldn’t rub me raw because I believe everyone deserves recognition for their role in the Global War on Terror. We already get “thanks for joining” bling so why not hand out medals for specific roles or experiences. Think Oprah… “YOU get a medal!!! YOU get a medal…. EVERYBODY GETS A MEEEDDDAAAALLLL!!!!”
The hoopla over the new Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM) is that it will rank above the Bronze Star Medal (BSM). Yes… THAT Bronze Star. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the BSM, it is the fourth highest combat decoration and rewards meritorious service in battle. The Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and Medal of Honor are the only combat related medals that outrank the BSM. The BSM can be awarded for heroism (distinguished with a V for Valor) or for meritorious service in combat. In other words, if your Dad or Granddad had a BSM, or anything higher… he was a bad ass… give him a bottle of scotch.
However, since the attacks on 9/11, the BSM has lost a little bit of its bronziness. Units who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan often use the BSM as an end of tour award for leaders (think Platoon Sergeant and above). A lot of guys don’t recognize a Meritorious BSM as anything special. I received a BSM for my service in the Korengal and I’m proud of it… but I won’t be ordering BSM license plates anytime soon (anyone who does that without a V devise should be throat punched). There were a lot of other guys I knew that did a lot more than me and I think they deserved something higher than an Army Commendation Medal for their actions.
This brings us back to those hard-core drone pilots. I don’t know much about the specifics of their job, but I imagine it to be pretty cushy. Air Conditioning, lounge chairs, fresh coffee, and potty breaks are plentiful. I can’t even imagine what a bad day sounds like for one of these Call of Duty wannabes. Did the AC1 forget to fluff your pillow? Was your foot falling asleep during a “patrol?” Suck it up, Sally!
Imagine a conversation in 10 years amongst a group of Veterans at a local VFW bar. One guy is entertaining the crowd of the day he earned his Silver Star, then another chimes in about when he earned his ARCOM-V, and everyone agrees that he should’ve received a BSM-V. Then a drone pilot pipes up and tells his war stories and how he received a DWM. I’m not a religious man, but I PRAY that someone knocks him out.
The funny thing about awards—especially valor awards—is that a Commander has the ability to upgrade or downgrade an award based on a series of factors. I knew a Silver Star recipient that earned the medal after an intense firefight in which he was killed. His M203 was found with an empty cartridge in the chamber because he was fighting to save his brothers until his last breath. Another Soldier was nominated for the Silver Star (which was later downgraded) when he exposed himself to enemy fire to save a comrade’s life. He performed buddy aid and patched up his badly wounded head until help arrived. Both men were heroes in every sense of the word and both deserved to be recognized.
With that in mind, how can the Department of Defense honestly say that a pilot hanging out in his leather chair be placed in a category that rivals these two men? Give them as many unjustified medals that you want, but for the love of all that is good and holy… do not compare them with true warriors. Anyone who has actually been in combat should be disgusted with the prestige of this new Distinguished Warfare Medal and I urge you to make it your personal mission to let anyone who wears it know their place. Sibling rivalries might start getting messy.