The medal was intended for drone operators and other cyber warriors, in recognition of "single acts of extraordinary achievement" during engagement with enemy forces and actions that "remove the enemy from the field of battle."
Hagel announced a decision to discontinue the medal on April 15 following an outpouring of concern from veterans groups and members of Congress. Critics weren't happy that the Distinguished Warfare Medal was ranked higher than the Bronze Star, which is awarded for heroic action in armed conflicts, and the Purple Heart, given to those who have been wounded or killed in action.
[ Check out the latest handy mobile apps from the government. Read 10 Helpful Apps From Uncle Sam. ]
"The medal was originally conceived to be awarded only to those men and women who, while serving off the battlefield, have an extraordinary impact on combat operations," Hagel said in a written statement. "While the review confirmed the need to ensure such recognition, it found that misconceptions regarding the precedence of the award were distracting from its original purpose."
Hagel said Panetta was correct in seeking a way to recognize the extraordinary contributions that members of the Armed Services make even when working far from the battlefield. Now, instead of receiving a standalone medal, military personnel serving in cyber roles will be recognized within the existing award structure. Recognition is best accomplished, Hagel said, "through the creation of a distinguishing device that may be affixed to existing medals at various levels."
The criteria for receiving the device will be developed by the secretaries of the military branches, senior enlisted personnel and veterans organizations. Hagel has given them 90 days to establish the criteria, design and other specifics for his approval.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars applauded the decision, saying it "will clearly keep medals that can only be earned in combat in their high order of precedence, while providing proper recognition to all who support our war fighters regardless of their distance from the fight."