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Editorial: Medals earned for direct combat merit higher rank

Mar. 01, 2013 @ 11:45 PM

People who serve in the U.S. military are rightly cherished for their role in defending the country from foreign threats. But a special respect is reserved for those who lay their lives on the line to carry out their mission. That's how it should be.

Unfortunately, a new medal honoring military service runs counter to that logic.

The Department of Defense has approved a Distinguished Warfare Medal designed to recognize service members directly affecting combat operations even though they may be thousands of miles away from the fighting. One example given by officials as a possible recipient of this medal include the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based in Nevada. Another example is that of a soldier in Maryland who detects and thwarts a cyberattack on a Department of Defense computer system.

That's all well and good. Actions such as those are playing increasingly crucial roles in modern-day military actions and could well contribute to saving American lives.

But veterans groups are criticizing the medal because it has been ranked above such decorations as the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart.

The Bronze Star with Valor is awarded to troops for specific heroic acts performed under fire in direct combat, while the Purple Heart is given to military personnel who are wounded or killed in combat. How can sitting at a computer console compare with the sacrifices made and actions performed in great danger by troops in direct combat? It can't.

A bill already has been introduced in Congress to prohibit the medal from taking precedence over the Purple Heart. If the proper priorities prevail, it will become law. A preferred option is for the Department of Defense to recognize its error and affirm that those who risk their lives in direct combat deserve a higher honor.

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