Warfare has progressed geometrically since I was a young sergeant on the ground in Vietnam. The huge advances in computer and electronic capabilities have given our American forces capabilities never before possessed in any of our previous wars. Among the most widely known of these is drone warfare, wherein an unmanned, armed, aerial vehicle enters enemy airspace guided by an office-based pilot somewhere many thousands of miles from the actual conflict and launches lethal missiles against detected targets.
To this old infantryman’s way of thinking, that is a great concept. The idea of being able to win wars from the air goes back to WWI and was used to greatest effect in WWII when strategic bombings in Germany and Japan greatly degraded the fighting ability of both those countries and undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of American servicemen’s’ lives. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to those Air Force and Naval aviators who flew over my ground positions and delivered lethal ordinance on my enemies in the hills, mountains and rice paddies of South Vietnam. But for them I might not be writing this.
So keep all that in mind when evaluating my take on this new Defense Department medal for those who pilot the drones. We are going to create a new class of combat award for a group of technicians who through the incredibly complex inter-connections between their U.S.-based control centers in the docile deserts of Nevada or some other undisclosed remote location and the combat zone, are able to provide close air support for our ground troops or air strikes deep within enemy territory. Let’s picture this:
Somewhere in Afghanistan a small team of American soldiers, commanded by an Army captain, occupies a forward outpost. They are so far into hostile country that they must and can only be supplied by helicopter. That means then that they only get the minimum necessities of their needs. They have no running water source so by the time they have been there to attract an attack from the enemy, they have become persistently and continually hungry and hygienically ripe indeed. At 2:00 am on a cold morning they get hit by a large enemy force which has every intention of overrunning them and killing them to the very last man.
They inform their headquarters of the attack and within minutes that headquarters is busy directing an armed drone to assist in their defense. On the other side of the world, some Air Force captain, who slept comfortably at home last night with his spouse in military quarters somewhere in the Nevada desert, and who had a full, hot breakfast this morning, sips his coffee and views the information coming in through his computer. With a few strokes on his keyboard he is able to re-direct the mission of an armed drone hovering somewhere over Afghanistan to the beleaguered outpost which by that time has endured many casualties and is in very real danger of being overrun.
Through damage inflicted on the assaulting enemy forces by both the Hellfire missiles fired from the drone at the command of that comfortably ensconced Air Force captain somewhere in Nevada and the perimeter defense directed and coordinated by the Army captain in command on the ground, the attack is beaten back with but a few American troops killed and several more wounded.
As all the after-action reports are filed and this minor event gets logged into that bottomless swamp of history of American military combat, there will be those singled out for their performance under fire and recommended for awards for valor. Seldom in the history of the United States Army or the United States Marine Corps has there been such a ground fight when some brave soldier or Marine did not distinguish himself with exceptional valor. They, justifiably, should have that valor recognized by a grateful nation in the form of a medal.
But what about that Air Force captain back there in Nevada who entered the proper sequence on his keyboard to launch those Hellfire missiles that did in fact help break the back of the Taliban assault? Did he contribute to the victory? Without question he did. Were his actions valorous in the way we understand that term to mean courage in the face of a lethal threat? Of course they were not. Does he then deserve an award for service and valor in the face of the enemy equivalent to that which those who faced that enemy on the ground under extreme duress and hardship do?
That’s pretty simple to answer for anyone with a lick of common sense. Apparently however, our uninformed, never-uniformed, Commander-in-Chief and his equally uninformed and never-uniformed Secretary of Defense do not possess that lick. In their eyes, the comfortable, coffee-drinking young officer lounging in front of his computer console in Nevada, what airborne troops would call chairborne, is entitled to an equivalent or superior award for valor as those guys who fought it out on the ground. Should there be an award for drone pilots? Sure, but it should be to recognize their technical proficiency not their valor; with one exception: if that drone pilot is operating within some sort of mobile command post in a forward operating area and his post comes under fire in the course of battle, then a ”V” device could be awarded in recognition of that reality, as we now do with the Bronze Star.
Doesn’t this fiasco say it all about how clueless liberal Democrats are about the realities of combat?
Crossposted at American Thinker.