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Medal for high-tech warriors draws fire from US veterans
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 15, 2013

Gaza children's funeral shot wins World Press Photo
The Hague (AFP) Feb 15, 2013 - A photo of Gazans taking two children and their father killed in an Israeli air strike for burial has won the 2013 World Press Photo award for Swedish photographer Paul Hansen, judges said Friday.

The staff shooter for the Dagens Nyheter daily took the image of the funeral procession carrying carrying two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and her three-year-old brother Muhammad down an alley in Gaza City on November 20, 2012.

"The strength of the pictures lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children," said Mayu Mohanna, jury member from Peru. "It's a picture I will not forget."

The children's father Fouad was also killed in the air strike and their mother was put in intensive care.

AFP photographers Fabio Bucciarelli from Italy and Javier Manzano from the US won second and third prize in the Spot News category respectively with a series of photographs taken in Syria's battle-scarred Aleppo.

One of Bucciarelli's pictures shows a Free Syrian Army fighter standing on a rooftop preparing to fire a rocket-propelled grenade, while one of Manzano's photos shows rebel fighters in a dark room pierced by sunlight streaming in through bullet holes.

This year's competition saw judges sift through 103,481 photographs submitted by 5,666 photographers of 124 nationalities.

Combat veterans on Friday denounced a new medal for US troops who direct drone strikes or cyber attacks, calling the award an insult to those who risk life and limb on the battlefield.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled the new "Distinguished Warfare Medal" on Wednesday, saying it would recognize service members who play a crucial role in combat with high-tech weapons far from the frontline.

The medal, the first force-wide combat award to be created since 1944, ranks high in the hierarchy of US military medals, below the Silver Star but above the prestigious Bronze Star, which recognizes heroism in battle.

"To rank what is basically an award for meritorious service higher than any award for heroism is degrading and insulting to every American Combat Soldier, Airman, Sailor or Marine who risks his or her life and endures the daily rigors of combat in a hostile environment," said the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization dedicated to wounded combat veterans.

The new medal "would even rank higher than the Purple Heart Medal which can only be received by a servicemember who is either wounded or killed in action by the enemy," it said.

The Defense Department must reconsider how to honor the contributions of those operating unmanned aircraft or cyber tools without appearing to devalue awards for extraordinary valor, according to John Hamilton, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the country's largest veterans organization.

"The VFW fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time," said Hamilton, who was wounded in combat in the Vietnam war. "But medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear."

The new medal sparked debate, anger and some ridicule in the blogosphere, with the military blog "Black Five" heaping scorn on the award, labeling it a "participation" trophy.

The satirical Duffel Blog imagined what one of the robotic aircraft would say about the medal.

"I hate to say it, but my human counterpart is a droneopotamus. He sits around in the Ground Control Station all day, eating Doritos, and posts a sticker on the door that says Predator Pilot: Toughest Job in the Air Force.'"

The reaction to the award echoed a long-running debate inside the military, particularly the Air Force, about how to adapt to new realities in modern warfare, within a culture shaped by traditions from another era.

Writing in the Air and Space Power Journal last year, one Air Force officer argued the military needed to adjust its definition of combat and that there was little difference between a pilot dropping a bomb from a high altitude versus a drone pilot pulling the trigger from a remote location.

Major David Blair asked "what is the differential risk between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles in current conflicts?

"When a manned aircraft with two spare engines scrapes the top of a combat zone, well outside the range of any realistic threat, why do we consider that scenario 'combat' yet deem a Predator firing a Hellfire in anger 'combat support'?" he wrote.

The military needs to send the message that "the difference that person makes is more important than the aircraft that he or she flies."


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