Last Updated:November 28 @ 03:19 pm

Panetta stumbles with new techno warfare medal

By Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta blundered last week when he announced the Pentagon has created a medal specifically for those who wage war with technology.

Panetta unveiled the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, which will be awarded only to U.S. service members involved in unmanned aerial drone and cyber warfare operations.

In the hierarchy of combat commendations -- and this is where Panetta and the Pentagon brass stepped in it -- the new award will rank in importance between the Silver Star and Bronze Star.

The Silver Star and Bronze Star are the third- and fourth-highest U.S. military honor awarded American service personnel in combat and rank just above the Purple Heart, which is for being wounded in action.

The ranking of the new medal has ignited a firestorm of criticism from veterans and veterans' groups -- and rightly so.

"Medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear," said John Hamilton, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Hamilton's view is on the mark and likely shared with many Americans who have never been in the military or have never seen combat. It simply makes sense to award the most prestigious medals of valor or distinguished service to those who are in harm's way and who exhibited courage and heroism in battle.

That does not mean drone pilots and cyber warriors are not important. To the contrary, it takes a great amount of skill to master operation of flying drones to accurately hit targets half a world away. The bombs the drones drop and the rockets they fire are real and the lives taken -- young and old -- were equally real.

Not only is it difficult, it can be emotionally draining.

Killing another human can take a serious emotional toll on people. When troops are in a war zone and fire their guns or drop bombs from plans to kill enemies, they return to their bases with others who were there with them on the mission. But when a drone pilot in Missouri kills 15 people in Afghanistan and then goes to his or her kid's school play that night, there is a disconnect that can magnify the emotional issues.

And drones and cyber warfare saved American lives in battle.

The VFW gets it. Its leadership "fully concurs" with the notion that rear echelon forces can have a significant impact in combat.

Few would begrudge those involved in cyber combat the opportunity to receive medals as long as it is clear there is a distinction between battlefield medals.

It was simply a mistake to introduce a new medal that, intended or not, tarnishes the importance of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

The Pentagon needs to rethink its approach to creating cyber medals.


(c)2013 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

Visit Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.) at

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  1. bna42Comment by bna42
    February 22, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    “. . .rear echelon forces can have a significant impact in combat.”

    Rear echelon forces have ALWAYS had a significant impact in combat because they are the ones who provide all the essential needs of combat troops. However, that doesn’t justify rewarding them with higher awards than the actual combat troops who are in the heat of battle.

    Of course the REMF’s are valuable, but not more valuable than the troops in the trenches. But I really believe that the Pentagon was told to create this debate in order to make another attack on the military and the morale of the troops.

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  2. JDZComment by JDZ
    February 22, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    Just another example of how out of touch this administration is with reality, and it is embarrassing to watch this same behavior on one example after the other whether it is financial, social, etc. This one, however, just defies any level of empathy or good commonsense and must be the brainchild of one of the “gamers” in the Obama administration who grew up in his/her version of a cyber fantasy world.

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  3. ajjj2Comment by ajjj2
    February 22, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    Another example of a manager being trapped by their rear echelon staff inflating their importance.

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  4. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    February 22, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    A troop can earn a Bronze Star in an air-conditioned office, but that office must be located in an area designated as a combat zone.

    If he earns his Bronze Star out where the hot metal flies … or earns it when his air-conditioned office comes under attact … the ‘V’ device (for Valor) is added.

    Nobody sitting in an air-conditioned office, far from a combat zone, and immune to any form of attack deserves a medal that outranks the Bronze Star.

    Wearing this ‘Joystick Gallantry Cross’ will make the recipient the laughingstock of the military … much like Obama is the laughingstock among the world’s commanders-in-chief.

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  5. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    February 22, 2013 @ 11:58 am

    The military should create another new medal: Leading From the Rear, award it to King Barry Barack, and pin it on his imperial rear end.

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  6. Lars HagenComment by Lars Hagen
    February 23, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

    Click-on link for a graphic of the metal
    and the nonsupporting story behind it

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  7. Garrett FuquayComment by Garrett Fuquay
    February 23, 2013 @ 3:31 pm Another veteran’s take on the medal

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  8. peletierComment by peletier
    February 23, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

    Don’t yet know if to find the lost of respect and reputation Leo Penenta has gone through, funny or tragic, because of his ill advised association with Barack Obama and his socialist corrupt government, full of cover-ups…

    It is pitiful, Penneta chose to throw away a respectful long life of public service,to service this tyrant…

    Wonder what he will tell his grand-children, when they ask him about his career in Governement and what he did for his Country…

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