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Petition to lower precedence of medal gains more signatures but faces an uphill battle

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A petition to lower the precedence of the Distinguished Warfare Medal, which is meant to recognize contributions to combat operations by drone pilots and cyber-warriors, still needs several thousand signatures to be reviewed by the White House.

“As someone who has had sand on his boots, someone who lost two buddies during Desert Storm, it bugs you that someone sitting at a control station in Las Vegas would get something that is equivalent or superior to something that someone would get who’s on the ground fighting the hard fight,” said John L.W. Evans III, San Marcos, Texas, the author of the petition on the White House’s We the People website.

Mr. Evans learned about the proposed medal via a Facebook post by a member of his former unit, the 317th Engineer Battalion, and said it wasn’t so much the award itself that angered him, but its place in the order of precedence.

He said he started the petition to express his feelings and is amazed that it has grabbed so much attention.

The Defense Department said Feb. 19 that it will not change the ranking of the medal, which is set to fall below the Distinguished Flying Cross but above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, despite negative reactions from many veterans, including Danny M. Francis, a Watertown resident and three-time recipient of the Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.

“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,” Mr. Francis, a former Marine, said last week.

Mr. Evans said that as someone who is technologically savvy, he recognizes the changing face of war, but that having troops on the ground is “never a popular option but a necessary option,” and he does not want to see those who make the biggest sacrifice get lost in the shuffle.

On Feb. 15, Air Force officials released nomination criteria for the medal, which will be awarded to “honor individuals for single acts of extraordinary achievement, not involving acts of valor, that directly impact combat or other military operations.”

According to an article from the American Forces Press Service, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Feb. 19 that the Distinguished Warfare Medal will be granted “pretty rarely and that factored into the decision” on its precedence.

Criteria for the medal, which will be retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, require that “the extraordinary achievement must result in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from comrades or others in similar situations,” and that the action “include hands-on employment of a weapons system, including remotely controlled assets, or any other activity, in any domain, that had a direct and immediate on-site effect on an engagement or operation against a target.”

The medal will not be awarded for acts of valor.

Three U.S. representatives introduced legislation Tuesday asking the Pentagon to reconsider the ranking of the medal.

As of Wednesday night, Mr. Evans’s petition had 15,362 signatures. It needs 84,638 more by March 16 to be reviewed by White House staff.

The petition can be viewed here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/lower-precedence-new-distinguished-warfare-medal/5KdnkBBN

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