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The joystick medal: An insult to combat veterans

March 14. 2013 8:25PM

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel needs a dictionary. In a letter to Sen. Pat Toomey last Thursday, Hagel expressed this opinion of the Pentagon's new Distinguished Warfare Medal, a non-combat medal created for drone pilots, which will outrank the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

"It recognizes a specific type of contribution that is vital to the defense of our nation. It in no way degrades or minimizes our nation's other important awards or the tremendous sacrifices of our men and women who earn these prestigious recognitions."

Merriam-Webster defines "degrade" as "to lower in grade, rank, or status." The Distinguished Warfare Medal would bump the Bronze Star and Purple Heart down the ranks of military medals, from 9th and 10th, respectively, to 10th and 11th. It would degrade those medals, literally.

Hagel inherited this slight to the valor of our combat forces from his predecessor, Leon Panetta, who approved it. Panetta's Feb. 13 letter announcing the medal stated that it was created specifically to rank above the Bronze Star (it will be just below the Distinguished Flying Cross).

After pressure from some senators (including Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire) and veterans groups, Hagel said this week he would review the new medal. We hope he will not have to be guided by hand to the right conclusion on every major decision. Judging from his confirmation hearing and his tone-deaf response to this issue, that seems like a real possibility.

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