March 08, 2013

Manchin, Rockefeller Bipartisan Group Protect Rank of Purple Heart, Bronze Star

Senators send a letter to Secretary Hagel urging the Department of Defense to protect combat medals precedence over newly created Distinguished Warfare Medal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller (both D-W.Va.) and a bipartisan group of twenty other Senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today urging him to preserve the precedence of combat decorations over a new medal honoring drone pilots and cyber warriors.

The letter asked Secretary Hagel to reconsider the Defense Department’s recent decision to give the newly created Distinguished Warfare Medal precedence above such combat awards as the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

In their letter, the Senators acknowledged that America’s silent warriors play an important role in the national defense of the United State, but questioned whether the Distinguished Warfare Medal should be ranked above medals for combat heroism and gallantry.

The Senators said combat awards are sacred, reflecting the special bravery of Americans who have been willing to sacrifice everything in the defense of this country. They said combat awards should remain the military’s highest honors.

“I’ve listened to West Virginia veterans and agree with them; our brave service members who face life and death situations deserve the most distinguished medals the United States military awards," Manchin said. “While I support the Distinguished Warfare Medal, I do not believe it should be given higher precedence than awards for those who face the battlefield. Awards earned in combat for heroism, patriotism and a commitment to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy every day should not rank below a medal earned in relative safety. Even though the standard practices of war are changing, the risks combat warriors face daily should meet the most renowned awards.”

“Each member of our military plays a crucial role in protecting our nation and every American,” said Senator Rockefeller.  “As cyber warfare has become one of the most dangerous threats to our nation, it’s appropriate for us to recognize the hard work of those who defend us against such attacks.  At the same time, I strongly believe that this new award should not receive precedence over combat medals.  The courage and selflessness of the men and women who serve overseas, away from loved ones, while putting their lives on the line to fight against our enemies is unmatched.  The medals for such service are for exceptional heroism in the face of all odds, and they should be treated that way.”

Senator Manchin sent the letter to Secretary Hagel along with Senators Ayotte (R-NH), Begich (D-AK), Blumenthal (D-CT), Boozman (R-AR), Donnelly (D-IN), Heitkamp (D-ND), Heller (R-NV), Tim Johnson (D-SD), King (I-ME), Landrieu (D-LA), Leahy (D-VT), McCaskill (D-MO), Murkowski (R-AK), Rockefeller (D-WV), Sanders (I-VT), Shaheen (D-NH), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Warner (D-VA), Udall (D-NM), Whitehouse (D-RI).

A PDF of the letter to Secretary Hagel is attached.

Please read the letter below:

Dear Secretary Hagel,
We respectfully request that you reconsider the precedence that the Department of Defense has given to the newly created Distinguished Warfare Medal.

While we support the Defense Department’s decision to authorize a new decoration – the Distinguished Warfare Medal – as a way to recognize silent warriors, such as drone pilots and cyber warriors, we adamantly oppose the decision to elevate this award above those earned in direct combat. We recognize that military awards should be updated as the tactics of warfare change. Yet, we maintain that heroism and personal courage in combat do not change from generation to generation, and should be held sacred and awarded accordingly.

We believe that medals earned in combat, or in dangerous conditions, should maintain their precedence above non-combat awards. Placing the Distinguished Warfare Medal above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart diminishes the significance of awards earned by risking one’s life in direct combat or through acts of heroism. Moreover, the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s placement directly above the Soldier’s Medal – an award for bravery and voluntary risk of life not involving conflict with an armed enemy – diminishes the precedence given to acts of individual gallantry in circumstances other than combat.

We have listened to the many Veterans in our states that have contacted us about the precedence of this award and agree that combat awards are sacred, and their precedence is best left undisturbed to preserve the legacy of service in combat and bravery.

The United States Senate previously recognized the importance of the Purple Heart. In 1985, the Senate approved an amendment that changed the precedence of the Purple Heart – elevating its precedence directly above the Meritorious Service Medals. For almost 30 years, that precedence has been left unchanged.

With your direct combat experience, you know too well that generations of Americans have risked their lives in combat, and many have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The precedence of combat awards recognizes these acts of heroism and should remain our military’s highest honors.

Thank you for your consideration into this matter.