Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal
Meet Staff Sergeant Maurice Scott, a special operations Marine and a hero. His heroism is of the variety one sees in TV and movies, but few ever get a chance to see in real life. In September of 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott was serving as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Marine Special Operations Team 8133, Marine Special Operations Company Charlie, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, in Farah province, Afghanistan.
During a night helicopter raid into an insurgent stronghold on 6 September 2010, Staff Sergeant Scott employed supporting aircraft to great effect to disrupt activities and sever supply lines. Using aircraft sensors, he guided his unit to their security positions. As the sun rose, both security positions came under ruthless assault by enemy forces intent upon regaining their sanctuary. Coordinating bomb, rocket, and gun attacks from the aircraft overhead, Staff Sergeant Scott held off the enemy assaults while observing from an exposed position that sustained withering fire from the insurgents. With the adjacent element pinned down by mortar fire, Staff Sergeant Scott spotted and eliminated an insurgent cave position with the employment of a missile strike, enabling the element to regain security. Hours later the attack began again when insurgents fought at close range with hand grenades. Leaping to the wall he engaged the enemy with his weapon while directing aerial gun runs that were dangerously close to friendly forces. His bold actions broke the back of the assault, causing the enemy to break off their attack.
For his actions he was awarded the Bronze Star medal with “V” for valorous actions.
Scott is the kind of hero we’ve come to expect from our men and women singled out for their actions; humble and willing to share credit.
“You can’t attribute the success of the mission to one individual,” Scott said. “Everyone is actively involved in the process. It represents the achievements of our team.” Scott, a former Army Ranger, has served three deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.
The Bronze Star is awarded for either meritorious service or combat heroism. The bronze “V” is a combat distinguishing device for acts of combat heroism or valor.
“There was excellent leadership at the team level,” Scott said. “That’s what allowed us to perform with accuracy.”
The Bronze Star recipient, whose father was an Army lieutenant colonel, had a military upbringing and realized his own military career when he was 18.
What seems absurd though is that if any of the aerial fires mentioned in the citation were from drones, the pilot of that drone, (located somewhere within the US) will be retroactively eligible for a medal which outranks SSG Scott’s in order of precedence.
I received a Facebook message from a friend last night agreeing with what I had written yesterday, but noting that in some instances people seem to be denigrating the drone pilots (which he refers to as RPA or “Remotely Piloted Aircraft”) instead of targeting the award itself. As he said:
First, I'm 100% in agreement it should be lower on the rack. I would put it just below the Aerial Achievement Medal. But that being said, some of the anger is being completely mis-directed at the RPA crews themselves. There is a misconception going around that if someone walked into one of the RPA pods it would resemble Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard [characters from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”] sitting around eating takeout on HALO night. Now, I'm not an RPA guy, my base accounted for the bulk of RPA combat enragements last year. I know these guys, and I assure they aren't the high school AV squad…. I also find it ironic that in expressing their anger about the precedent of a medal, so many ground ops guys are choosing to lambast guys who had surely didn't make the decision. That's because they are busy working six or seven days per week providing real-time reconnaissance and firepower to those same ground operators to keep them safe. And the misconception that these guys are sitting on the deck of the Starship Enterprise sipping mint juleps is nonsense.
He makes a fair point that we should remember. These guys do an absolutely invaluable service, and do it with the expertise we’ve come to expect from all the men and women of the military today. So, when we complain about the order of precedence of the medal, we need to make abundantly clear that it isn’t the servicemembers we criticize, but rather an awards system that would place heroism without actual danger above that displayed by our people actually on the ground risking life and limb.
Today I took part in a “Bloggers Roundtable” discussion with the DoD about this medal. I was the first person on the call, and I asked two questions. Actually, I asked the same question twice, and didn’t get the response I hoped for either time. I suspect I might not be invited back to their Roundtables.
My question was this:
What actions would warrant this medal that would be so above the criteria for a medal like an MSM?
The MSM, or “Meritorious Service Medal” is authorized for anyone “who, has distinguished himself or herself by outstanding meritorious achievement or service… while serving in a non-combat area [or]…for outstanding non-combat meritorious achievement or service in a non-combat or combat area.”
The new Distinguished Warfare Medal would be authorized “’extraordinary achievement’ directly tied to a combat operation but at a far remove from the actual battlefield.” By way of example, the DoD cited these two possibilities:
"The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyber attack on a DOD computer system."
The lady hosting the phone call today, who works for the Office of Secretary of Defense, said that the DWM is higher in precedence, and is to honor a singular act of “heroism” (her word) that affected combat operations.
I still don’t see a distinction. It seems the MSM could have been awarded to either of the two DWM examples, and it would have been appropriate. Why create an award higher than the one that exists, which is even higher than the actions of those facing death, bodily injury etc? Well, according to her, this was the unanimous recommendation of the service chiefs and service secretaries.
I find that difficult to believe. You’re telling me every one of the service chiefs felt it was appropriate for a drone pilot to get an award higher than that of the JTAC on the ground (like SSG Scott) who was engaging in small arms fire, dodging grenades and coordinating fires? I find that difficult to believe.
However, if you want unanimity of opinion, then look no further than the veterans organizations.
It's pretty much common sense, a medal for drone warfare should not be senior in ranking to medals that are earned by troops who are in harm’s way. It should not take precedence over the Purple Heart or Bronze Star as proposed by the DoD. While the medal – which could be earned for extraordinary service to the war effort by launching drones or cyber warfare attacks from places like Nellis AFB in Las Vegas or Tampa, Fla. – is certainly worth considering – it should not rank higher than medals that often cost American lives to earn.
John Hamilton, the VFW’s commander-in-chief, said in a statement that his organization “fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time,” but added that “medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear.”
“To rank what is basically an award for meritorious service higher than any award for heroism is degrading and insulting to every American combat soldier, airman, sailor or Marine who risks his or her life and endures the daily rigors of combat in a hostile environment,” the order said in a prepared statement.
The DoD conference call left me with no doubt that this medal was going through, regardless of what anyone thinks about it. But you simply cannot convince me that no matter how great the service of these drone pilots, no matter how many lives each of them saves, that it is somehow more worthy of a medal than the actions of SSG Scott. I thank God that we do have such experienced drone operators out there looking out for my ground pounding brothers, but I don’t see how their service (no matter how incredible and life saving) warrants something higher than a Meritorious Service Medal.
UPDATE: Reminder from Ed in the comments below, there is a petition you can sign to get this looked at by White House which you can sign AT THIS LINK.
Lower the precedence of the new Distinguished Warfare Medal
The Pentagon is introducing a new medal to recognized the service of pilots of unmanned drones during combat operations. This medal will be placed in precedence order just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and just above a Bronze Star Medal. Bronze Stars are commonly awarded with a Valor device in recognition of a soldier's service in the heat of combat while on the ground in the theater of operation. Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground. This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned.