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Local veteran questions the status of Distinguished Warfare Medal

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The new Distinguished Warfare Medal, created to recognize drone pilots and troops engaged in cyber warfare from afar, outranks the Bronze Star with Valor device and should be lowered in precedence, according to a local three-time recipient of the Purple Heart.

Danny M. Francis, 463 Harris Drive, Watertown, who was wounded three times during two tours in Vietnam as an enlisted infantryman and infantry platoon commander, said that while he will likely keep the 15 decorations he was awarded during 20 years of active duty service — “I earned them and my country gave them to me” — he has contemplated boxing them up and sending them to the White House in protest over the new medal.

Mr. Francis, a retired Marine, doesn’t object to recognizing drone pilots and cyber warfare practitioners for their contributions to combat operations, but he does think that the Distinguished Warfare medal should be lower on the spectrum, perhaps with medals awarded to commend noncombat achievement.

“I’m not saying their job’s not important. In many cases it’s critical. But putting it at the same level of combat troops or combat supporting troops... It’s just not the same,” he said.

Mr. Francis said he understands that the face of warfare has changed — something the Secretary of Defense likely had in mind when he announced the creation of the new medal.

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools ... have changed the way wars are fought ... they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle from afar,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a press conference Wednesday.

Mr. Panetta said that while the military will continue to reserve its highest decorations for “those who display gallantry and valor in actions where their lives are on the line,” officials want to have the ability to honor “extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations.”

“This award recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century,” he said.

Despite this new reality, Mr. Francis said some elementary facts haven’t changed on the ground.

“The basic philosophy of the infantry is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy,” Mr. Francis said. “Drone pilots sitting in a console 3,000 miles away don’t do that.”

In order of precedence, the Distinguished Warfare Medal will fall below the Distinguished Flying Cross but above the Bronze Star.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.

The Bronze Star is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service in connection with military operations against an armed enemy. According to the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry, it was created in 1944 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following a memorandum from General George C. Marshall stating that the Air Medal, created two years earlier to raise airmen’s morale, was having an adverse effect on ground troops, particularly infantry riflemen, who, according to General Marshall, were “suffering the heaviest losses, air or ground, in the Army, and enduring the greatest hardships.”

Mr. Francis said he felt he represented a larger community of veterans who were upset by the ranking of the medal, which will be worn on the uniform ahead of the Bronze Star with Valor Device and Purple Heart.

A petition was created Thursday on the White House’s We the People website asking the Obama Administration to lower the precedence of the Distinguished Warfare Medal. If the petition garners 100,000 signatures by March 16 the request will be reviewed by the White House and a response issued.

The petition had more than 5,000 signatures late Monday.

Another petition, created the same day and asking the administration to stop the creation of the medal altogether, has gotten more than 900 signatures.

According to a Military Times article about the outcry against the medal published Thursday, controversy has played a role in shifting the precedence of medals in the past.

In 1985, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to move the Purple Heart medal above the Meritorious Service medals, which are awarded for noncombat achievement or service.

On Friday, the Military Order of the Purple Heart issued a press release that calls the ranking of the award “degrading and insulting” to servicemen and women who risk their lives in a hostile combat environment and asks the newly appointed Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reconsider the precedence of the Distinguished Warfare Medal.

Mr. Francis said that Chuck Hagel, who is expected to be confirmed as the new Secretary of Defense this week, “might have a different viewpoint” than Mr. Panetta. Mr. Hagel is a Vietnam veteran and two-time recipient of the Purple Heart.

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