Why the Drone Medal Is Overvalued

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, a U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern
FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, a U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year, the U.N. said Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in a sign of the changing mission as international forces prepare to withdraw combat forces in less than two years. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

There are many opinions circulating the political and military atmospheres regarding whether or not to award a distinguished military medal to predator drone operators serving outside of battlefield operations. The Distinguished Warfare Medal, also known as the "Drone Medal," is not so much political as much as it is incomprehensible to many combat veterans.

Many current and former members of the military believe that the award is a slap in the face to every troop member who served in foreign combat operations and witnessed firsthand the carnage of in-your-face ground warfare -- and rightfully so.

Some of these same warriors agree that the medal is warranted, but they take issue with the fact that the medal ranks higher than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. That is what makes this medal an insult to many troops who fought in battle and sacrificed their lives only to be awarded a medal that is now subservient to The Distinguished Warfare Medal.

There is a huge distinction to be made in regard to medals awarded to "boots on the ground" trigger-pullers and those who kill the enemy with joysticks from lethal technological areas thousands of miles away from the dangers of modern-day combat operations.

After all, war is very different from the video games played on Xbox 360. No modern war has ever been won only through technological means. We should not overly reward users of technology over the sheer bravery of our men and women in uniform.

Life remains safe for those who kill the enemy with remote devices from cubicles far outside of the parameters of the kill zone. The shaky aftermath of the drone's destruction is endured by the troops patrolling the areas devastated by the drones.

Drone operators can engage in combat with a sandwich and a cup of coffee on their desks. However, drone operators lack the ability to charge a hill, provide leadership on the battlefield, comfort a wounded fellow troop, or win over the hearts and minds of those the drones are meant to liberate.

The drone lacks sweat equity. The drone does not gain trust or value among those it is intended to protect. Foreign nationals who reside where drone operations are conducted are resistant to the drones for obvious reasons. Our troops are preoccupied with defending their own lives.

Predator drone operators receive no incoming enemy fire nor are they putting enemy combatants in the iron sights of their rifles, pulling the triggers, and stumbling upon their deceased opponents moments later causing them to realize the true nature of their situation. This is something that most people can't imagine.

There is no realistic way to quantify, compare, or equalize the effectiveness of the ground operations conducted by Army soldiers and Marines engaged in combat to the hands-off work conducted by drone operators who are out of the area.

If the military awards medals to drone operators that are more significant than medals earned by those who risk life and limb, they might as well award drone operators Purple Hearts for mental health trauma of having killed people in a similar fashion to those who play "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2." What's next, PTSD claims for drone operators?

It is very likely that drone operators go home at night with a lot on their minds. They may very well toss and turn in bed while wrestling with the uncertainty of whether or not they hit the bull's-eye or whether they made an inaccurate hit, resulting in the death of innocent people.

Drone operators are a crucial component to the Global War on Terror. This piece is not meant to discredit the drone operator occupation. At the same time, those who place themselves directly in harm's way in the service of their country should never receive medals beneath the hierarchy of military achievements of those who operate from satellite locations where there is no conceivable danger.

There is no doubt that it takes a tremendous amount of skill and concentration to place a drone in hot pursuit of a high value target who is maneuvering through the mountainous regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Drone operators probably feel a certain amount of pressure or duress performing their jobs. The operators may even have superior officers breathing down their necks to locate and eliminate a suspected terrorist or terror network in a timely fashion.

The job of a drone operator has to be stressful, but there are different kinds of stress that are worthy of superior military medals.

The job stress of a drone operator could never compare to the anxiety, dismay, and hyper-vigilance felt by an Army or Marine grunt conducting mop-up duty after the strike has occurred. After the drone strike concludes, the drone operator can experience many great amenities that troops in the field are forced to live without. The troops in the field live with the aftermath of the drone attack worrying about the retaliation they'll receive from the indigenous population of the attacked country and the unpredictable future of violence that likely awaits them.

Many veterans who have served in real-world combat operations realize that military awards are sometimes handed out undeservedly. Especially to the recipients higher up in the ranks who rarely put themselves in the life-threatening situations frequently endured by junior enlisted troops who conduct the majority of the legwork on combat deployments.

Current and former members of the military know that medals are not part of the ingredients that make warriors, but there must some basic criteria that establishes who deserves an award that ranks above a Bronze Star or a Purple Heart. One would be hard-pressed to find combat veterans who believe that the activities conducted by drone operators meet the criteria for such a prestigious award.

Drones are a necessary tool used to combat enemies overseas who are planning to harm America. There are existing achievement medals, citations, and accolades that would serve as more appropriate awards for professional drone operators.