The Distinguished Warfare Medal is the product of the politically correct who have been watching too many movies, and thought it necessary to add a new class of medal for the military staff acting as “pilots” for drones being used in combat areas.
The real rub came about when the status assigned to this new medal was above that of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Bronze Star with the V attachment.
With all due respects to those assigned to this task of keeping the drones flying, they do provide a very valuable service. Drones have saved many front line soldiers and Marines by removing enemy forces that could not be reached by the manned fighters. They have been used to gather intelligence information that would have been too costly in terms of risking the lives of living, breathing recon groups. How do they compare to their manned counterparts in combat support, and do they deserve medals?
Let’s do a comparison of the manned crew ships and the unmanned drones in action.
During the Vietnam War, a need for close support with heavy firepower from the air was needed brought a combination of old technology combined with new technology — the Spooky gunship, or a.k.a. Puff the Magic Dragon. Spooky was a WWII C-47 transport plane that was fitted with three GE electronic mini-guns that had a rate of fire totaling over nine thousand rounds of .30-caliber bullets per minute onto an enemy when needed.
One Spooky crew member received the Medal of Honor for gallantry while over Vietnam, Feb. 24, 1969, when he saved his ship, Spooky 71, and crew from certain death. In the process of releasing flares from the aircraft, one fell out of the rack due to shock from the plane being hit by an artillery shell. Sgt. John L. Levitow was injured from the flack from the shell, but saw the danger, and immediately tried to pick up the burning flare. He could not use his arms because of the injuries, so he jumped on the flare and hugged it with his body. He was able to move it to the open door and roll it out before it fully ignited. The danger was gone, and the crew was saved.
The next evolution of the gunship, the Spectre, was based on a C-130 transport and a vast improvement over the Spooky. These were so heavily armed that some critics called them too much for an aircraft. Different variations of this plane were fitted with almost every weapon available from the GE minis up to rockets and cannons. Spectres were used very successfully as front line support during the first Iraq Offensive. On Jan. 31, 1991, a Spectre crew was to go into history as the highest single loss of life in that action. Spirit 03 had been engaged in support of the ground troops when it came under fire from the Iraqi forces. It was hit by a ground to air missile and crashed just off shore with 20 crew members aboard, killing 14.
The Spectres are still flying missions in Afghanistan, and carry the same number of crew. Both the Spooky and Spectre gunships have been flown by crews who knew there were many dangers facing them on each mission, but they had a mission to protect the ground troops. They were large, slow targets that quickly drew fire from the enemy, and had no guaranties of getting back from a mission.
Now for the drone program. These are unmanned armed attack drones and recon drones of different configurations being flown by a remote pilot who can be thousands of miles from the operation of the drone. Contact with the drone is by way of a video display provided from a camera on the drone. The controls are a keyboard and a joystick in a climate controlled office type environment, or at least a climate controlled trailer or container. At the end of the day, the pilot leaves the keyboard and kicks back.
What about a medal?
Dale Robinson, a Vietnam Vet. and member of American Legion Post 143, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian on veterans issues.