WASHINGTON — The military has stopped production of a new medal for remote warfare troops — drone operators and cyber warfighters — as it considers complaints from veterans and lawmakers over the award, which was ranked higher than traditional combat medals like the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of the Distinguished Warfare Medal, which was to be awarded to troops who operate drones and use other technological skills to fight America's wars from afar.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday that Hagel ordered another look in light of concerns by lawmakers and veterans groups over the fact that the new medal was ranked above medals for those who served on the front line in harm's way, such as the Purple Heart given to wounded troops.
"He's heard their concerns, he's heard the concerns of others," Little said of Hagel.
If the review agrees with those complaints, the medal would likely have to be renamed and new medals manufactured, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. It was not immediately known how many had been produced.
Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis called Hagel's action "a very encouraging sign" but noted that fixing the problem is "not yet a done deal."
Hagel's decision "shows exactly why we supported him" for defense secretary, said VoteVets.org, a progressive political action committee that has been lobbying for a change in the medal. "Having a former grunt who served in war at the top in the Pentagon means a deeper understanding of those who are serving our nation right now."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca., said fixing the issue is one thing, but the Pentagon also should "admit this was a bad idea" in the first place.