Inequity and the Distinguished Warfare Medal

| February 20, 2013 | 26 Comments

Crossposted.

SSG Scott

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.

Really? 

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. 

The American Legion:

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.

VFW: 

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.”

Military Order of the Purple Heart:

 “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.

Category: Politics

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  1. ChipNASA says:

    I just don’t have anything to add but, “YEAH..What he (TSO^^^) SAID!!!!!”
    /got damn DOD.

  2. FatCircles0311 says:

    Vet orgs DGAF and tell it like it is. Thanks vet organizations!

  3. Jumpmaster says:

    Roger that. I fail to see how somebody sitting in a chair in air-conditioned comfort with a fresh cup of coffee deserves more than a soldier covered in dust and sweat with bullets smacking the mudbrick wall next to his head.

  4. Hondo says:

    The DWM is absurd and absolutely unnecessary. The acts it purportedly recognizes can already be appropriately recognized by award of an Achievement Medal, Commendation Medal, MSM, DMSM, or LOM, depending on just how important the act was to the overall war effort. All of those decorations already exist and can be awarded for specific acts or achievements.

    It is a travesty that the new DWM ranks higher in precedence than the BSM. It appears to be little more than a “feelgood badge” for those who are jealous of recognition accorded others who actually served in combat.

    And the lady from OSD doesn’t know her keister from a hole in the ground if she thinks any of the examples she gave were actual examples of “heroism”. Not even close.

  5. rb325th says:

    Well Bidens Drone Warriors are really special to him….

  6. Claymore says:

    And yet the space shuttle door gunners remain completely unrecognized. Travesty.

  7. ohio says:

    Big difference; looking into the eyes and faces of those you have taken out than sitting in a comfy chair with hot chocolate and donuts at your side and viewing them from 10,000 feet.

  8. Hondo says:

    ohio: also a big difference between experiencing IDF impact fairly close by vice viewing it on a screen from a safe place, too.

  9. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    FOIA all docs on the creation of this medal and you will see what I previously floated. This medal reminds me of several scenes in Skyfall, here is just one:

    Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.
    James Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.
    Q: Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.
    James Bond: Oh, so why do you need me?
    Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.
    James Bond: Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.

  10. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    Claymore, let’s don’t forget the Dive Officers on Amtracs! Unsung heroes each and every one.

  11. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    (In my best Bluto Blutarski voice)

    Bullshit!!

  12. Mr Wolf, non-Esq says:

    YY, I’m taking that one-

    ‘So what did you do over there?’

    ‘I was the dive officer/torpedoman on the Stryker…’

  13. Hondo says:

    I once read on a Navy discussion board that all ships can submerge – the key question is whether it can resurface under its own power.

    I’m guessing not too many AMTRACs could. (smile)

  14. CWO5USMC says:

    Good read. This guy’s a stud. Period.

    This whole new medal is just a bunch of B S anyway. How about instead of a medal, we give them the “Golden Order of the XBOX Controller” badge to wear on their uniform??? It would sort of be like jump wings…..only sissified….

    Just saying…

  15. marvin says:

    Drone warriors should be recognized, but those who are in actually in harms way should receive a higher award.
    It is insane to make a combat award for someone whose life wasn’t in danger higher than an award for someone whose life WAS in danger.
    The first awardee, if they have any honor should refuse the award until the precedence is changed.

  16. SGT Ted says:

    He only got a Bronze Star for that?

    Didn’t John F’in Kerry get a Silver Star for far less?

  17. NHSparky says:

    Ted–true, but they’re taking that whole concept of the “geedunk medal” to a whole new level.

    And FWIW, as cheesy as Kerry’s Silver Star was, it was nothing compared to the circumstances under which LBJ was awarded his during WWII.

  18. NHSparky says:

    the DWM is higher in precedence, and is to honor a singular act of “heroism” (her word) that affected combat operations.

    If by “heroism” you mean braving the thugs at the DC Metro stations, then yeah, maybe. Exposing yourself to guys who want to make you dead? Not so much.

    I look at it this way–a drone pilot has a bad day, he packs his shit up and goes home. A guy in the ‘Stan has a bad day, he goes home–IN A BOX.

    That young lady who hosted the conference call might do well to learn that little distinction.

  19. CC Senor says:

    If bitching won’t shame them into changing the precedence, maybe laughter/scorn will:

    http://townhall.com/political-cartoons/2013/02/19/107291

  20. NHSparky says:

    CC–given this administration…hell, ANY administration, even that won’t do it.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I realize that what I am suggesting may sound ludicrous but does anyone thing that we might get some traction with a petition on the White House page to have the medal downgraded in precedence? Also, anyone have any personal contacts with Medal of Honor recipients that could add their two cents? I have to imagine that there would be some backpeddaling if some WWII and Vietnam era MOH recipients were quoted by the press as being insulted and aghast at this turn of events.

  22. Common Sense says:

    Question: Can someone refuse a medal? I would think that drone operators may stand on principle and refuse the award. That may be enough to do away with it.

  23. FltMedic says:

    Wow. How perfect. A friggen participation award for the participation trophy generation……

  24. johca says:

    What exactly is heroism without actual danger? Heroism has essential requirement of the person participating in a risky or dangerous task that is for the sake of others. Heroism has essential requirement of participating in a risk or dangerous task. Heroism implies courage to sacrifice for the sake of others or perhaps bravery to accomplish something despite being scared of the potential pain or harm to self.

    How the heck can the lady hosting the phone call, who works for the Office of Secretary of Defense, assert or suggest that the DWM is higher in precedence, and is to honor a singular act of “heroism” that affected combat operations when all the official press releases clearly indicate the DWM has no valor criteria it can only be awarded for outstanding achievement.

    The argument of “vast majority of Bronze Star Medals are not awarded for valor, she said. Only 2.4 percent of Bronze Stars are given with a V device connoting a valor award.” Is a false analogy and a false cause argument. The argument of “Depending on the service, the V-device can also be awarded with commendation medals” in that the V on this medal as the V isn’t actually indicating heroism or valor as it does not require bravery or courage, but indicating the outstanding achievement happen during a period of service imminent danger pay was being paid to the service member at the time of the service or achievement.

  25. MAJMike says:

    Seems like this should rank only slightly above an ARCOM/AFCOM/NAVCOM.

    Being in a firefight would be an underwear-changing moment for me. Just can’t see how this little trinket should be superior to a Bronze Star.

  26. BK says:

    If it’s a done deal, we need to ensure we submit every Raven UAV operator on every TOE for every forward-deployed Stryker Brigade with one of these babies. Scott’s Bronze Star is already almost crowded out by the non-V ones they’re giving the FOBbit Sergeants Major who are yelling at privates for not wearing eye pro to the DFAC.

    At the end of the day, *we* at least know what the deal is. It’s the only way I can reconcile myself with a rear-D ARCOM with an ARCOM given to a PFC/SPC who deployed for OIF, let alone anything bigger.

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