WASHINGTON -- Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is standing by the Pentagon's controversial decision to rank the new Distinguished Warfare Medal higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
The medal is intended to reward achievements of drone operators who might be stationed comfortably in the United States rather than in war zones thousands of miles from their families.
The rankings drew the attention of federal lawmakers, including Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who say drone operators shouldn't get higher military honors than combat heroes.
Mr. Murphy is co-sponsoring a House bill to block the medal while Mr. Toomey wrote a letter asking for clarification from Leon Panetta, then secretary of defense.
His response came not from Mr. Panetta but his successor, Mr. Hagel, in a letter dated Thursday, the new secretary's eighth day on the job.
"Since Sept. 11, 2001, technological advancements have, in some cases dramatically changed how we conduct and support combat and other military operations. Accordingly the [Distinguished Warfare Medal] award criteria intentionally does not include a geographic limitation on the award, as it is intended for use as a means to recognize all service members who meet the criteria, regardless of the domain used or the member's physical location," Mr. Hagel wrote to the senator.
The award is meant to reward a single extraordinary act that affects combat, Mr. Hagel wrote.
"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," he wrote.
Other non-combat medals already rank higher than the Bronze Star, which usually but not always, recognizes valor, he pointed out. The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service crosses and Silver Star, which are awarded solely for combat, remain higher in precedence than the new medal, he wrote.mobilehome - nation
Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: 1-703-996-9292, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.