On February 13th the Secratery of Defense authorized the issuance of a new medal: the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM). This medal was brought about to recognize the contributions made by individuals who may not necessarily be engaged in true combat. This award now provides an avenue for people such as pilots of unmanned areal vehicles (UAVs) who are very much a part of operations in Afghanastan, only their cockpit physically sits in the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada. The DWM is also an opportunity for those who work in fields such as cyber warfare/defense, a critical component to ensuring vital infrastructure remains functioning but one often well outside of the limelight, to potentially be awarded for significant acts supporting combat operations.
In his letter authorizing the DWM, the Secratery stated, “The DWM provides an avenue to recognize appropriately extrodainary direct impacts on combat operations warranting recognition above the Bronze Star Medal. Since September 11, 2001, technological advancements have, in some cases, dramatically changed how we conduct and support combat and other military operations. Accordingly, the DWM award criteria intentionally does not include a geographic limitation on award, as it is intended for use as a means to recognize Service members who meet the criteria, regardless of the domain used or the member’s physical location.”
The basic criteria to receive the award, according to DoD Manual 1348.33-V3 “Manual of Military Decorations and Awards,” are as follows:
1) Event must have occurred after September 11, 2001.
2) Engaged in military operation against enemies of the United States
3) Engaged in military operation involving conflict against a foreign force, or
4) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in military operations with an armed opposing force.
As mentioned previously, the DWM is a response to the changed nature of how the U.S. conducts military operations in the today’s complex, technology dependant environment. The award cannot be given for any act of valor whatsoever. This has created some controversy around the DWM. In the order of awards given to military members it sits between the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross, both of which are awarded for acts in which the individual’s life is in direct threat of harm. Many see the DWM as a “me too” award and has also been called the “geek award” by many.
While certainly the contributions made by individuals not on the front lines of combat can have a significant impact on forces down range, do they rate on the same level as awards given for valor? As someone who served in the communications field, it is nice to see often overlooked jobs have an opportunity to be rewarded for what they do. However, in my opinion, the actions that Bronze Stars are awarded for outweigh those conducted by someone on the other side of the globe out of the line of fire. The key difference is being able to execute the action while truly facing danger: bullets being shot directly at you, Mortor rounds raining down, anti-aircraft missile seeking out your plane etc. A predator pilot, while truly providing a needed and valuable roll, will never be shot down over enemy lines. He or she will not face the same dangers as a Chinook pilot ferrying troops through valleys riddled with Taliban carrying rocket-propelled grenades