Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce that the Pentagon is creating a medal for the men and women who operate and conduct drone and cyber attacks against enemy combatants in combat operations today. This medal will be the first combat-related award to be created since the Bronze Star in 1944.

The new medal will be called the Distinguished Warfare Medal. The medal will be a brass pendant, nearly two inches tall, with a laurel wreath that circles a globe with an eagle at the center, and has red, white, and blue ribbons around it.

What makes this interesting?

Not only is this a combat medal, but this medal will have a higher ranking than the Bronze Star medal and a lower ranking than the Silver Star, a defense official reported. As we know, the Bronze Star medal is the fourth highest combat decoration, while the Silver Star medal is the third highest combat medal, given for bravery in combat. Unlike the Bronze Star and Silver Star, the Distinguished Warfare Medal does not require that the recipient be in harm’s way or risk his or her life to get the combat medal. The operators of drones that conduct operations in combat areas fly them from as far as 7,000 miles away from any immediate danger in a secluded air-conditioned room.

The medal gives the military a way to recognize drone operators actions that “directly affect a combat operation, doesn’t involve an act of valor, and warrants an award higher than the Bronze Star” according to the Pentagon criteria.

The Question

Pilots who operate drone strikes, surveillance, and cyber operations in areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, etc., absolutely play a key and direct role in combating terrorism, but should their actions be awarded a “combat medal” higher than the Bronze Star if they are not in direct “combat?”