US Drone Pilots Will Start Getting Awards, But Don't Call Them Medals Quite Yet

Drone Pilots Will Start Getting Awards -- But Don't Call Them Medals Quite Yet

Just as American soldiers can be awarded the Silver Star, some have long argued that remote operators of drones should be eligible for war medals as well. New reports indicate they might not be getting medals per se, but they will be getting some kind of award. Today, the New York Times reports that the Pentagon is expected to make an announcement that drone operators are indeed are going to be decorated with some kind of regalia. But the Military Times says that "distinction" might just be a pin that's affixed to noncombat medals, instead of a new, standalone medal -- one that's been derided as the "Nintendo medal". That pin could be a quarter-inch "R", which stands for "remote", similar to the existing "V" for "valour" device that's already affixed to American medals.

This latest development adds intrigue to a long-standing debate as to whether drone pilots should be eligible for (noncombat) medals. On one side of the issue, some vets have opposed such a possible accolade, apparently calling it the "geek cross", and didn't want such an award to rank higher than combat medals. Drone pilots control UAVs from the safety of a remote control room far from the battlefield, so opponents think doesn't match the heroism of those troops actually out on the ground.

Meanwhile, supporters of the change argue that the use of drones for intel-gathering or airstrikes has become so interwoven with modern-day warfare that their pilots' contributions deserve to be acknowledged. It's also a very hard job -- the US Air Force has had a tough time retaining drone pilots because of intense stress that leads to PTSD.

American drone operations in the Middle East have been killing civilians for years, so they remain controversial. Still, in 2013, former Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced that drone pilots would receive a distinguished service medal, though that was swiftly overruled by his successor, Chuck Hagel.

The latest round of updates from Pentagon extends beyond drone piloting, too. The Military Times reports that operators who launch cyberattacks could be eligible for the new "R" device with today's announcement, too. Welcome to 21st-century warfare, where everywhere is a battlefield.

[New York Times, Military Times]

Image: AP Photo/Eric Gay



    One could also argue that senior officers wage war from the safety of headquarters, placing others in the line of fire, with no risk to self, wouldn't generally be thought of as valour.

    The most remote of all; how does the US military deal with commendations for satellite operators who go above and beyond the call of duty?? Or is no sacrifice enough to impress the top brass from the safety of their pentagon offices and control rooms.

    Why the mention of killing civilians? You do know that soldiers with boots on ground kill civilians too, as do manned airstrikes, but the object of war is to engage the protagonists, whilst eliminating the will of civilians to support ongoing struggle without direct engagement (of civilians). The informal asymmetric wars being fought make any distinction between civilian and active antagonist merely a matter of timing, whilst a US (etc) regular is identifiable as such 24/7.

    Haters gunna hate, trolls gunna troll. have a nice day.

    Last edited 09/01/16 6:43 am

    Absolutely disgusting. Drone operators are the lowest of scum, as is any government that uses them.

      So no surveying a disaster zone, say after an earthquake, tsunami or storm? No watching for bushfires before they become disasters? No using them to inspect high voltage power lines and transmission towers?

      Or is it just looking for and killing enemy soldiers without putting your own soldiers at risk that you have a problem with?

      Is it that civilians may be injured or killed by a missile fired from a drone? Because that has never happened when the missile has been fired from a conventional aircraft has it?

        This article isn't about survey drones or bushfire drones, is it smart guy? Your snide tone aside, I have a problem with the American empire killing people with drones.

        Last edited 10/01/16 9:03 pm

          You'd prefer they did their killing with bigger, more powerful bombs which will cause more collateral damage from manned aircraft?

          Like it or not, these targets were going to be hit. If not with small missiles from close range because they don't mind risking the drone, then it would have been a much bigger JDAM or similar from further away from an F-16 or F-18 which would have killed many more.

          Do you have a problem with all remotely piloted weapons? What about cruise missiles?

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