There are few sights more awe-inspiring than a U.S. servicemember bedecked in dress uniform with rows of medals dangling from their chest. While most of us have no idea what the individual ribbons and colors signify, we do recognize the individual is accomplished, brave, successful and a true credit to the armed forces.
While some ribbons are awarded for rather happenstance events such as time in the military and location of unit, most are recognition of that individual's achievement in their service to country. These awards justifiably are worn proudly.
New medals are not introduced very often. In fact, the Distinguished Warfare Medal announced by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just last month, was the first combat-related award created since World War II. It recognizes superior achievement in a relatively new combat role -- the use of technology in battle that allows operators to be in a location far away from the actual war zone. Members of the military who guide remote drones or fight the enemy in cyberspace would be eligible for the new award.
The rules of engagement are changing rapidly as technology advances. There was a need for a new category of achievement such as the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Both current and former military were cognizant of that.
Yet controversy has erupted before the first medal has even been awarded. New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel heard an earful from military veterans and lawmakers alike about its placement in the order of awards. Currently, the Distinguished Warfare Medal ranks higher than time-honored awards such as the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
That placement in the order of precedence is what drew the ire of the VFW, Military Order of the Purple Heart and other organizations. Their concern is justified.
While bombing targeted sites and persons in foreign countries has become a popular tactic in today's military, such work can be conducted from air-conditioned control rooms in stateside bases. The same for computer experts working to disrupt communications of the enemy. It's critical work that should not be debased.
But it certainly does not rise to the level of valor displayed by gunners and infantrymen and women doing their jobs while bullets whiz overhead, mortar shells explode in their midst, and fellow soldiers become casualties. Concerns about the Distinguished Warfare Medal's ranking are not motivated by jealousy or other petty perspectives. There just isn't a comparison in the danger level of the work environments.
Secretary Hagel has ordered a review of the new award. In fact, production of the medal has been halted. We applaud the move and hope it results in a more appropriate level of importance.
Military decorations need to remain more than a gorgeous pallette splashed on the dress uniform. Men and women who offer their lives serving their country attach great significance to each and every ribbon worn. This is an issue of honor.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry