In one of his first moves as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel has halted production of the controversial Distinguished Warfare Medal and ordered a review of its precedence in the military awards hierarchy, where the new medal outranks the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
His next step should be to scrap the medal entirely — not because its intended recipients are undeserving of recognition — they most certainly are — but because this new award is unnecessary.
Designed to acknowledge combat actions performed by unmanned aircraft pilots and cyberwarfare specialists, the Distinguished Warfare Medal was approved in mid-February by Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, as he was leaving office. Instantly, it was met with overwhelming disapproval from active-duty personnel and veterans alike, who say such precedence diminishes the value of other awards reserved for actions outside the wire, where bullets fly and blood is shed.
Panetta’s motive was on point in seeking to honor communities that make hugely important contributions to the war effort but whose deeds take place far from the dusty war zone. But with revised guidance, these troops could be pinned with existing awards — everything from a service commendation medal, for example, to a Distinguished Flying Cross — and avoid altering the order of precedence.
Hagel may feel conflicted about reversing his predecessor’s decision, but the Vietnam War vet, himself the recipient of two Purple Hearts and other combat awards, must not allow personal politics to color his judgment. By dropping the Distinguished Warfare Medal and issuing guidance on how to properly honor cyber and remote-control warriors, the new defense secretary will show his troops that he values their input and honors their service.
And that will go a long way toward earning their respect.