House members ask Hagel to downgrade medal for drone pilots

More than four-dozen House lawmakers are calling for a new drone combat medal to be downgraded below a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

The lawmakers sent a letter Monday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel questioning why the new Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM), which was created for drone pilots and cyber warriors, was being ranked above awards where recipients are facing “imminent danger” or are wounded or killed.

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“We are supportive of recognizing and rewarding such extraordinary service but in the absence of the service member exposing him or herself to imminent mortal danger, we cannot support the DWM taking precedence above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the new drone medal last month, but it has faced a stream of criticism — mostly over its high rank when potential recipients would be thousands of miles from the front lines.

Veterans of Foreign Wars questioned why the medal would mean more than those earned in direct combat, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) wrote to Panetta last month expressing his own issues with the medal’s level of prestige.

The Pentagon has defended the new medal. "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," Pentagon press secretary George Little said last month.

"We expect this award to be granted pretty rarely, and that factored into the decision [on its precedence]," Little said.

Among the four-dozen lawmakers are numerous subcommittee chairmen and ranking members of the House Armed Services Committee, including Wilson, although the panel’s Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) are not on the letter.