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This image released by the Department of Defense shows the obverse view with ribbon of the newly announced Distinguished Warfare Medal. The Pentagon is creating the new medal that can be awarded to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations but do it from afar. The medal will be awarded to individuals for "extraordinary achievement" related to a military operation. / AP

WASHINGTON - More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition urging the White House to demote a new medal that will honor drone pilots and other service members who participate in combat operations without physically being in a war zone.

The new Distinguished Warfare Medal, announced Wednesday, will rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross in the military's official "order of precedence."

That means it technically will rank higher and be worn on a uniform above the Bronze Star with V device, which honors heroic conduct on the battlefield, as well as the Purple Heart, which is awarded to troops injured in battle.

"Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot (who) is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground. This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned," reads the petition that is active now on the White House's official website.

The petition, created Thursday by J.E. of San Marcos, Texas, needs 100,000 signatures by March 16 for the White House to consider taking further action.

For the Air Force, the rise of drone warfare has meant a dramatic cultural shift. For decades, officers who made their mark flying combat aircraft have dominated its leadership.

Many pilots initially dismissed drones as nothing more than video games. But today, the Air Force trains more drone pilots than fighter or bomber pilots, and drone strikes have killed scores of terrorists, according to the Obama administration.

Pilots of remotely piloted aircraft, the Air Force's preferred term, say they face a unique stress because they see the enemy in a more personal way than a pilot flying at 500 mph. Drone pilots may watch a target for days, seeing him interact with his family and go about the routine of his daily life before launching a missile to kill him. Afterward, an RPA pilot may watch the funeral.

Drone pilots now make up 8.5% of Air Force pilots, up from 3.3% in 2008, according to the Air Force. Last year, drones flew more combat hours than manned aircraft.

That WhiteHouse.gov initiative is not the only source of criticism for the Pentagon. Large veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Order of the Purple Heart, also have criticized the new medal's placement in the official hierarchy and called on the Defense Department to change it.

"This new medal - no matter how well intended - could quickly deteriorate into a morale issue," John Hamilton, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said last week.

Pentagon officials say the new medal reflects the changing nature of warfare in the 21st century and the new medal's high-level placement reflects the extraordinary actions that will be required to earn one.

Contributing: Jim Michaels, USA TODAY



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Petition asks for change to new drone medal

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