It looks like the same old story of the Air Force balking about getting fewer medals than the Navy, Army and Marines. In 2000, the Pentagon wrist-slapped Air Force brass for giving out 185 medals to those involved with the Kosovo mission when only about 10 percent of the medal recipients were actually involved in combat. Many of those decorated had never even left the base, where their only attacks were launched on the mess-hall chili.
The decrease in legitimate opportunities for decoration is bittersweet: As fewer pilots are given the opportunity to be shot down over enemy territory and are replaced by unmanned drones, there are fewer opportunities for Air Force personnel to earn combat decorations. On the bright side, there are also fewer opportunities to come back to America in a body bag.
So, what's the solution? Well, if the opportunity to risk your life in combat is something that Air Force personnel really want to continue to pursue, they can put pressure on Pentagon leadership and the White House by insisting on not being replaced by drones. A formal push would also show the public that the military's rank-and-file is still up for assuming conventional risks, regardless of public squeamishness over casualties of war.
The alternative would be to accept the increased use of drones and decreased operational risk as a trade-off, meaning that although you'll probably have no chance of getting a combat medal, your survival and well-being is virtually guaranteed.
Turning military decorations into the equivalent of Sports Day participation awards -- like when someone gets a Bronze Star for "responding to supply requests at a moment's notice," as was the case with a Kosovo-era Air Force lieutenant colonel -- will eventually diminish the actions of someone who did something truly heroic.
Perhaps those being positioned for military decorations based on the ability to maintain steady control of a drone-controlling joystick while licking the potato chip flavoring off their fingers ought to be considered for distinction in a far more suitable contest: competitive video-gaming.
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