The military hands out so many medals these days most of them mean about as much as an A grade at an Ivy League college. But, since everyone apparently has to get a medal for something, the military created The Distinguished Warfare Medal, which can be earned by fighting cyberwars and flying drones.
The medal is a roughly two-inch-tall brass pendant that hangs from a ribbon with blue, red and white stripes, and it will be awarded to people who racked up "extraordinary achievement" directly tied to a combat operation, but far removed from the actual battlefield.
From the Pentagon:
"The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyberattack on a DOD computer system."
The original point of military medals was to give soldiers extra incentive before going out to potentially be killed. Napoleon once boasted that he could get men to die for a piece of cloth.
The top echelons of medals in the military are still given out only for exceptional actions above and beyond the call of duty. Even a passing review of Medal of Honor citations will make you say, “AND ALL THEY GAVE HIM WAS A MEDAL??”
Here is the description from Cracked about what Audie Murphy did to receive his medal in World War II:
“His company was given the job of defending the Colmar Pocket, a critical region in France, even though all they had left was 19 guys (out of the original 128) and a couple of M-10 Tank Destroyers. The Germans showed up with a [feces]load of guys and half a dozen tanks. Since reinforcements weren't coming for a while, Murphy and his men hid in a trench and sent the M-10s to go do the heavy lifting. They got ripped to shreds. Then, this five-and-a-half-foot-tall kid with malaria ran up to one of the crippled M-10s, hopped in behind the .50 cal machine gun, and started killing everything in sight. Understand that the M-10 was on fire, had a full tank of gas and was basically a death-trap. He kept going for almost an hour until he was out of bullets, then walked back to his bewildered men as the M-10 exploded in the background Mad Max style. They gave him literally every medal they could (33 in all, although he had doubles of a few, plus five from France and one from Belgium), including the Medal of Honor.”
The military also gives out campaign medals for serving in a particular war, which seems reasonable, though I must say, I was disturbed to learn that in addition to awarding Afghanistan and Iraq campaign medals (I have a brother who earned one of those), the United States is also awarding Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Global War on Terrorism Service medals. There is also the Homeland Security Distinguished Service medal which, with one notable exception, is given to Coast Guard admirals for retiring while in the line of duty. I can't wait to see what the medal for serving in a Cyberwar looks like.
All of which brings us back to the new medal for staring at a computer and/or flying a remote-controlled aircraft.
The Pentagon notes that it is the first new combat-related award since the Bronze Star was created in 1944.
I had the honor of being friends with a Bronze Star recipient. He received the medal for leading troops in combat in Vietnam. He knew by heart the names of the dozen or so men who died under his command during that engagement. He eventually died from poisoning due to prolonged exposure to Agent Orange during his service.
"Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyberattack on a DOD computer system."
What risk -- other than carpal-tunnel syndrome -- does our theoretical soldier face?
This stretches the term "combat-related" out of any recognizable shape.