Pentagon Won’t Honor Drone Pilots With Medals – Do Only ‘Boots On Ground’ Deserve Awards?

The Pentagon has turned down the idea of medals for drone pilots. The Defense Department will however, offer a new “R” device that can be pinned on existing noncombat medals to recognize the wartime contribution of military cyber warriors.

American soldiers who act courageously during wartime are awarded medals like the Silver Star. There have been persistent demands and arguments that drone pilots, the technicians that remotely maneuver the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) atop battlefields, should also qualify for war medals for their contribution. While the Pentagon hasn’t approved awarding the same medals soldiers are qualified to get, for drone pilots, they will be getting some recognition, reported New York Times.

According to Military Times, drone operators will get to be decorated with some kind of regalia, but the “distinction” is just a pin that’s affixed on top of noncombat medals. There won’t even be a standalone medal that is specifically meant for the drone pilots. The newly unveiled pin will bear the letter “R,” which stands for “remote.” The designation is quite similar to “V,” which stands of “valor.” The “V” device is already used in the American military.

Pentagon Won’t Honor Drone Pilots With Medals
(Photo by John Moore / Getty Images)

The cosmetically modified “medal” has been recently termed or rather derided, as the “Nintendo medal” because many strongly feel that drone pilots aren’t soldiers in the real sense. Opponents of medals for these military personnel have argued that the pilots aren’t truly involved in the act of war since they do not actively and physically partake in the war. Since the personnel aren’t “boots on the ground,” it’s argued, they shouldn’t be eligible for (noncombat) medals. Many military veterans have opposed the accolade, terming it as a “geek cross” and voicing their strong opinions that any award for drone pilots shouldn’t rank higher than combat medals.

The core aspect of discontent is the fact the pilots control the UAVs from the safety of a remote control room that’s usually situated far away from the active battlefield. Hence opponents have pointed out that any activity by the pilots doesn’t match the heroism of those troops. The soldiers, who are on the ground, risking their lives for their country, are the ones who are involved in the war and they are the only ones who deserve recognition for their heroism.

It is an undeniable fact that more military actions are being fought with technology than ever before and drones have now become an indispensable asset, reports Gizmodo. Actions like intel-gathering or airstrikes, conducted using drones has become tightly interwoven with modern-day warfare. Supporters for the awards maintain that the pilots who maneuver these drones should have their contributions acknowledged.

Pentagon Won’t Honor Drone Pilots With Medals
(Photo by Philippe Desmazes / Getty Images)

It’s no secret that drone pilots have a very stressful work environment. The United States Air Force is having a hard time retaining drone pilots because of intense stress that inevitably leads to PTSD. Drones might not be human, but their remote pilots sure are. Though these remote flying machines can stay afloat for days or weeks at a time, their pilots have to endure a lot of stress to man them, albeit from a safe distance.

Besides approving the pin for drone pilots, the Pentagon is set to order the military services to review more than 1,000 medals issued since the 9/11 terror attacks for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award issued for valor in combat, reported USA Today. Even if a small percentage of the medals under review are upgraded, dozens more troops would be qualified to receive the Medal of Honor for their bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported Belleville News Democrat.

It is quite apparent that wars in the 21st century will be fought with the assistance of technology. Should the drone pilots or skilled programmers who launch cyberattacks be eligible for awards?

[Photo by John Moore / Getty Images]