New Medal Recognizes Cyber, Drone Service

(Feb. 13, 2013) Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has approved a new medal designed to recognize service members directly affecting combat operations who may not even be on the same continent as the action.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal recognizes the changing face of warfare. In the past, few, if any, service members not actually in a combat zone directly affected combat operations.

These new capabilities have given American service members the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar, Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference today.

He said, “I’ve always felt, having seen the great work that they do, day in and day out, that those who performed in an outstanding manner should be recognized. Unfortunately, medals that they otherwise might be eligible for simply did not recognize that kind of contribution.”

Now, the Defense Department does.

“The medal provides distinct, departmentwide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails,” Panetta said.

Technological advancements have dramatically changed how the American military conducts and supports warfighters. Unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, missile defense technology and cyber capabilities all affect combat operations while the operators may not be anywhere near the combat zone. The new medal recognizes the contributions of these service members.

It will not be awarded for acts of battlefield valor, officials said. It will be awarded in the name of the secretary of defense to members of the military whose extraordinary achievements directly impacted combat operations, and cannot be used as an end-of-tour award.

“This new medal recognizes the changing character of warfare and those who make extraordinary contributions to it,” said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The criteria for this award will be highly selective and reflect high standards.”

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 cyberattack on a DoD computer system.

The medal could be used to recognize both these exceptional acts, officials said.

In the order of precedence, the Distinguished Warfare Medal will be below the Distinguished Flying Cross, and will be limited to achievements that are truly extraordinary. “The member’s actions must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from comrades or from other persons in similar situations,” a DoD official said.

The military department secretary must approve each award, and it may not be presented for valorous actions. “This limitation was specifically included to keep the Distinguished Warfare Medal from detracting from existing valor decorations, such as the Medal of Honor, Service Crosses and Silver Star Medal,” the official said.

Award criteria will be incorporated into the next revision of DoD Manual 1348.33-V3, Manual of Military Decorations and Awards, Volume 3.