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Unprecedented: Pentagon to Award Military Drone Pilots

The contributions and meritorious service of drone pilots who have been providing direct support for years to troops in and outside the combat zone are to be officially recognized by new awards the Pentagon is expected to create as part of a broad review of the medal award process conducted by the military services, defense officials revealed Wednesday.

Changes will be announced Thursday, The Associated Press (AP) learned from officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the move.

Citing obtained documents, USA Today reported that the proposed changes are part of a medal overhaul expected to involve the review of 1,100 military decorations issued since the 9/11 terror attacks for potential upgrades to Medal of Honor.

“There has been broad criticism over how medals are awarded, including differences between the various military services on the qualifications for the medals or the criteria that determine valor or heroism,” reports AP. “A move in 2013 by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to create a medal for drone pilots and cyberwarriors triggered such a backlash that his successor, Chuck Hagel, shelved the idea and ordered reviews of the award systems.”

“Panetta had tried to create an award for service members who contribute to the fight outside the combat zone,” it adds. “But veterans’ groups were irate when the proposal ranked the award a bit higher than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.”

Under the new Department of Defense (DoD) proposal, there will be a new small letter “R” device much like the “V” one troops are awarded for valor.

That “R” device, which could be attached to a noncombat ribbon, would reportedly be conferred upon service members who conduct drone actions from afar that have a direct impact on combat operations.

The second new award would be a “C” device, which could also be attached to other ribbons or awards.

That “C” device would be awarded to troops in recognition of “meritorious service under combat conditions.”

“Often military members receive ribbons for serving in the war zone – for example, in Iraq or Afghanistan – but many of them never see combat,” acknowledges AP. “The ‘C’ device would give additional recognition to those who served in those conflicts and were actually in combat.”

Silver Star and Service Cross awards conferred upon troops during the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will reportedly be subjected to a DOD review to ensure recipients got the right medal.

“While officials said that there has been no indication troops were given awards inappropriately, trends show that commanders increasingly approved higher awards as the wars dragged on,” notes the AP article. “As a result, some officials worried that earlier recipients of the Silver Star and Service Cross medals may have been eligible for the more prestigious Medal of Honor.”

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has to approve the measures.

“If approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the sweeping review would represent one of the most significant steps in decades to honor troops who have displayed extraordinary courage in combat,” notes USA Today, later adding, “Should even a fraction of the medals under review be upgraded, it’s possible that dozens more troops would receive the Medal of Honor for their bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“The Navy and Marine Corps oppose such a review, according to a briefing paper, because top officials there ‘believe reviewing prior decisions undermines the integrity of commanders’ decisions,’” reveals USA Today.

The Marine Corps is a component of the Navy.

Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, praised the Pentagon’s review, noting that it was long overdue.

“He blamed military red tape and too many layers of approval required for all the medals it awards for valor,” declares USA Today.

“It’s a systemic problem,” Hunter  reportedly said. “I’m glad they’re finally getting around to fixing it. This is military bureaucracy at its worst.”

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