New military award honoring drone operators riles veterans - KMSP-TV

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Rank of new military award honoring drone operators riles veterans

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They aren't necessarily on the front lines of battle, but operators of military drones do play an important role in the war on terror -- but should they be honored with an award above the Purple Heart?

The Distinguished Warfare Medal is the Pentagon's newest military honor. It's the first combat-related award to be created since 1994, and it applies to post-Sept. 11 activities -- including achievements by unmanned drones and cyber warriors.

Yet, the new award is already making waves among veterans. While honoring the nation's heroes is certainly important, many are wondering whether military members who fight from behind a screen should receive an honor higher than those given to wounded soldiers.

For veterans who have risked their lives on the front lines, the news of the new award was met with many questions -- and many are hoping lawmakers will help

Chuck Jones and Lee Ulferts are both Purple Heart recipients and they have the wounds to prove it, but they're now fighting another battle at home.

"There's a person who sits in a climate-controlled room with possibly a coffee next to them as they are controlling these drones," Ulferts said. "They will get a medal that is rated higher than someone who has served on a battlefield. It just does not seem logical."

Jones and Lee reminisced about their tours in Vietnam as they leafed through old photos with FOX 9 News and discussed why they don't believe recipients should be recognized ahead of those who receive either a Bronze Star or Purple Heart.

"We all concurred that -- granted, if you want to give them a medal, give them a medal -- but the placement of it shouldn't be there," Jones said.

That's why veterans are teaming up with Reps. Tim Walz and Erik Paulsen to create a bipartisan petition that would downgrade the award.

"I think, possibly, they were thinking of a way to honor these warriors and the work they do and it simply passed on through until it got the scrutiny of veterans' organizations and the soldiers out there," Walz said.

The Department of Defense issued a statement about the award's rocky reception, saying they understand the veterans' concerns but do not plan to change the order of precedence at this time.

"I don't think they quite anticipated the furor they've gotten," Military Historian John Fitzsimmons told Fox 9 News.

Fitzsimmons said he believes the award is an attempt to keep up with the times and acknowledge the landscape of modern warfare.

"As the nature of warfare expands, we will see new criteria or competencies where none of the medals quite fit," he explained.

Yet, that still doesn't resolve the quibbles over where they should fit. Jones, who has three Purple Hearts, and Ulferts, who received one, say they intend to keep fighting to preserve the prestige and value of their medals -- but more importantly, for the memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

"I would like to have [the recipients] go to the parents of every one of those names on that wall and tell them that my job is more important than the sacrifice your son or daughter made," Ulferts said.

Even in light of the statement from the Pentagon, Walz told FOX 9 News he is confident the decision could be reversed as soon as next week.

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