Monday, April 22, 2013

Good Call, Chuck!

There has been a lot of controversy about the proposed "Drone Medal" across the Defense Department and the public in general.  The biggest sticking point centered around the issue of precedence.  What is Precedence, you ask? Well my friend allow me to enlighten you...
Precedence is how the military ranks its awards, the more prestigious an award the higher that award is ranked as compared to other awards.  This affects every individual in the armed services.  If you have ever looked at the ribbons that a military service member wears while in service or dress uniform, upon first glance you may have thought, "Wow, that looks like a big hodge podge of random colors bricked together like a lego wall."  In fact all of those random colored rectangular blocks are actually rectangular sections of ribbon mounted in a specific order or 'precedence' according to their individual ranking.  Each ribbon is unique in its color pattern and is generally, although not necessarily representative of a Medal (refer to the Navy Unit Commendation below).  When wearing service uniforms military members only wear their 'stack' of ribbons, however while in full dress uniform they have the option of wearing their full medals or simply the ribbons if they prefer (medals are way more costly to purchase and maintain).
Medal of Honor Recipient, Dakota Meyer
Notice medals worn on the right and additional
awards that are only worn as ribbons on the left 

Awards in ribbon form only, some ribbons represent medals,
some are worn as ribbons only.  Note stars often represent multiple
awards of the same type of medal.  For example the top left ribbon represents
a Navy and Marine Corps Achievment Medal, the two stars respresent two
subsequent awards.

Generally speaking the precedence of awards follows as such:

1. Individual awards reserved for Valor (the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross are examples as opposed to awards like the Bronze star which can be awarded for reasons other than valor)

2. Individual awards (wide range of awards corresponding to the level of accomplishment or achievement)

Bronze Star, although generally presented for valor
is occasionally presented as an individual award
this is another contentious issue altogether

Navy and Marine Corps achievment medal
Presented for individual achievement
a combat V device would signify an act of valor

3. Unit awards (signify membership in a particular military unit that was recognized for accomplishments of the unit as a whole)

Navy Unit Citation (Unit award is not a medal, presented as a ribbon only) 
4. Campaign medals (signify participation in a particular war or conflict,lowest ranking)

Iraqi Campaign Medal
A common misconception is that a lot of ribbons necessarily means a whole lot of valorous actions in combat... This is not, however necessarily the case.  In fact it is all together possible to have a boatload of chest candy without ever having been to combat.  But those awards earned for valor in combat are recognized through the precedence of the award.  For example a service member whose only award is for epic levels of slaying bodies (lets say a Navy Cross) the single award outranks all the gold star 'at a boy awards another service member could possibly accumulate over the course of a comfortable career in an office chair. 
And here in lies the original controversy.  The "Drone Medal" as originally proposed was set for a precedence level higher than a bronze star and several other medals given for acts of valor performed in combat if awarded with a combat "V" device attached.  What is a combat "V" device? A 'combat' V is a miniature gold 'V' affixed to an individual award like an achievment medal (which is not strictly reserved for valor) in order to signify that the award is in fact presented for valor.  But back to the controversy at hand.  Establishing a medal like the 'Drone Medal' whose precedence is ranked higher than a number of medals awarded for valor in combat just rubbs a lot of people the wrong way.
Navy Commendation Medal With Combat V Device
In the end, Secretary Hagel cancelled the 'Drone Medal' and replaced it with a 'Drone' device.  Similar to the aforementioned combat "V," the 'Drone' device can be affixed to a broad range of individual awards allowing for awards that may or may not have higher precedence than some awards presented for valor but at the same time distinguishing the actions performed in earning the recognition from actions of valor performed in combat.

Secretary Hagel made pretty much the best decision possible on this one, virtually all parties concerned are satisfied.  Drone pilots will have a range of awards that can be awarded to specifically recognize their accomplishments, and combat awards retain a clearly distinguishable character of their own.

Now if only there were such an agreeable compromise on the defense budget life for Chuck would be a whole lot less stressful.

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