Pentagon set to announce awards for combat, drone service

USAFDronePilot

While the vast majority of U.S. Air Force pilots still control their aircraft from inside the cockpit, about 8.5 percent are drone pilots who operate their vehicles remotely.

After 15 years of war, defense officials say that they have conducted a broad review on how they bestow medals.

According to an Associated Press story, the military is looking into the nominations for the Silver Star and the Service Cross during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to ensure the troops were given the correct medals. Officials did not say that troops were erroneously given medals, but trends have showed that commanders increasingly approved higher awards as the wars progressed.

Due to the higher award approval as the wars dragged on, officials had concerns that the recipients of the Silver Star and Service Cross medals might have been eligible for the prestigious Medal of Honor.

Defense officials said the key goal was to make sure the review of military services had the same standards for valor and combat awards. They wanted to ensure the troops received the medals they deserved, especially those who risked their lives in combat battle.

There has been criticism the last few years over how the medals were awarded. Critics contend the criteria for what determines valor and heroism appear to be different between the different military services. In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made a move to create a medal for drone pilots and cyber-warriors. It triggered such a backlash that his successor, Chuck Hagel, shelved the idea and ordered reviews of the rewards system.

Panetta attempted to make an award distinctly for the service members who contributed to the fight outside the war zone. Veterans’ groups were upset when the proposed award ranked higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Under the Pentagon’s new proposal, there will be an “R” device added to the medal’s ribbon. This would be much like the “V” device that is awarded to troops for valor. The “R” could be attached to the non-combat ribbon for service members who conduct drone operations from afar that have direct impact on combat. It also could be awarded to troops conducting cyber-warfare of other futuristic battle techniques that have an immediate and direct impact on a specific combat operation.

A second new award would be the “C” device, which also could be attached to other awards or ribbons. The “C” would be awarded to troops join recognition of “merits service under combat conditions.”

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The new “R” and “C” devices will resemble the “V” for valor devices currently issued. The “R” device will be attached to a noncombat ribbon for service members who conduct drone operations from afar that have a direct impact on combat. It also could be awarded to troops involved in cyber warfare or other futuristic battle techniques that have a “hands-on, immediate and direct” impact on a specific combat operation. “C” device, which also could be attached to other awards or ribbons, will be given to troops in recognition of “meritorious service under combat conditions.”.

Officials said no one would have their medal taken away. But, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps will have until September 2017 to review the awards to make sure the service members got the right medal.

After the Pentagon announces the changes it will take up to a year to implement them. Officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the changes ahead of the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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