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Yousef Abukhdair Headshot

Do Drone Pilots and 'Cyber Warriors' Deserve Medals?

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On April 15th, after a slew of complaints by veterans groups and members of Congress from both sides of the isle, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans to eliminate a new program that would award the Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots and 'cyber warriors.'

To add insult to injury, the new medal was to outrank such commendations as the Bronze Star, which is awarded for acts of heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone, and the Purple Heart, which is awarded to individuals who have been wounded or killed while serving.

Several veterans groups have brought up multiple legitimate practical, as well as principle, grievances and complaints against the proposed medal program. Medals and commendations are given a point value which directly affects a soldier's ability to matriculate in rank. James Koutz, a high ranking member of the American Legion, stated, "the American Legion still believes there's a fundamental difference between those who fight remotely or via computer, and those fighting against an enemy who is trying to kill them." Other servicemen have echoed similar sentiments.

Brandon Friedman, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan said"Since 2001, I've seen a lot of detachment of senior leaders from troops on the line, but DoD's tone-deaf response to the criticism it has received over precedence of the [new medal] takes it to a new level."

The phrase 'cyber warrior' is relatively new to military nomenclature. From what I've been able to decipher, a cyber warrior's role is; protecting national computer networks from foreign threat, defending military networks, and cyber combat missions that attack enemy computer networks. In some ways they are government enlisted hackers. Though their role can be invaluable to national security in the 21st century, the job requires as much courage and sacrifice as a 911 operator. I certainly don't mean to reduce or devalue the vital duties of 911 operators, as they would surely agree they are not in harms way.

Mr. Hagel, himself a recipient of the Purple Heart, amongst other commendations, made a prudent decision in reversing his predecessor's medal program. Though Mr. Hagel intends on creating an alternative commendation to the Distinguished Warfare medal, Mr. Hagel has prevented a program that had very little popular support, and that both insults and demeans the sacrifices of previously commended veterans and active duty soldiers in life threatening scenarios, day in and day out. Though military defense and national security has changed and evolved in the 21st century, they certainly have not altered the definitions of words like risk, sacrifice, heroism, and courage.