Opponents of new combat medal file petition with White House

More than 12,000 Americans so far have signed dueling petitions demanding the outright abolishment or demotion of the Distinguished Warfare Medal among the ranks of military combat honors for U.S. service personnel.

"Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground," according to the White House petition. 

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The combat medal represents an "injustice to those who have served and risked their lives" on the front lines of U.S. combat operations worldwide, the petition adds.

Roughly 10,500 people have signed the White House petition to lower the precedence the medal holds in the hierarchy of military combat awards. The petition calling for the cancellation of the award has only garnered about 1,000 signatures so far.

Both petitions need to garner 100,000 signatures to warrant White House action.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Wednesday unveiled the new commendation, which recognizes the combat achievements of U.S. service members involved in unmanned aerial drone and cyber warfare operations.

The new award will fall between the Silver Star and Bronze Star, the third- and fourth-highest U.S. military honors available to American service personnel, and above the Purple Heart. 

While those members of the military usually serve far from harm's way, their impact on the battlefield is a harbinger of the new age in modern warfare, Panetta said at the time. 

However, the high status of the medal — particularly its ranking above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart — has angered a number of veterans groups, whose opposition has begun to gain traction on Capitol Hill. 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on Tuesday sent a letter to President Obama, slamming the medal's placement on par with the Silver and Bronze Star. 

“While fully supporting appropriate recognition of all military personnel whose extraordinary actions make a difference in combat operations, I am concerned about the new medal's possible ranking in DOD's order of precedence," Toomey wrote. 

John Hamilton, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his organization "fully concurs" with the notion that rear echelon forces can have a significant impact in combat, particularly in the areas of unmanned drones and cyber warfare. 

But that said, Hamilton noted that recognition comes at the expense of front line troops directly engaged with the enemy. 

"Medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear," Hamilton said in a statement last Thursday. 

DOD has defended the medal and the exploits of those service members, saying they warrant such high recognition within the Pentagon and armed services. 

"We are not diminishing at all the importance of the Bronze Star — that remains an important award for our combat troops and will remain so," DOD press secretary George Little told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday. 

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Steve Warren noted the decision to award the medal would fall to the service chiefs of the individual armed services — a much higher bar for approval compared to other battlefield commendations. 

As a Bronze Star recipient, Warren added that he was personally "very comfortable" with the new award's status among current combat citations.