Outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta announced the award, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, at his last scheduled press conference as the Pentagon's top military official. The medal is intended to recognize the achievements of military personnel, such as drone operators and cyberdefense professionals, who contribute to combat operations from positions outside the battlefield.
"I've seen firsthand how modern tools like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems have changed the way wars are fought," Panetta said. "They've given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar."
[ Want to know about how Congress' controversial cybersecurity information-sharing bill addresses privacy? See CISPA Cybersecurity Bill, Reborn: 6 Key Facts. ]
Technical advances have changed how the U.S. military conducts combat operations, Panetta said in a memo Wednesday outlining the criteria for awarding the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Those include "single acts of extraordinary achievement" during engagement with enemy forces and actions that "remove the enemy from the field of battle."
Over the past few years, the DOD has expanded its cyberwarfare capabilities with the launch of U.S. Cyber Command, and it's regularly using unmanned aerial vehicles in the war in Afghanistan. "This award recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century," Panetta said.
The medal will recognize exceptional accomplishments that occur "regardless of the domain used or the member's physical location." It ranks below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star. The Distinguished Warfare Metal is not intended for acts of valor or physical risk.
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