By Debbie Gregory.
It is widely known that Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone risked his life to stop an Islamic extremism aboard a train in France. But since the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones, Stone was not eligible for traditional valor medals, such as the Bronze Star or Silver Star. Those medals are limited to formal combat zones or military operations against a specified enemy.
Ultimately, the Air Force opted to give Stone an Airman’s Medal, which recognizes heroism “under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an enemy.”
Air Force Secretary Deborah James said,”The Airman’s Medal is the highest award in a non-combat situation that we could possibly award to Airman Stone.”
Stone’s honor demonstrates how the military’s medal and awards system has failed to keep pace with the changing reality of today’s threats and the types of valor displayed by some of service members in certain circumstances.
James said that the entire military medals and awards system is “is being looked at right now within the Department of Defense. We’re trying to think that through.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to approve major changes to the rules governing awards, some of which have stood for more than 100 years old. Since 9/11, the military has faced an increasing number of nontraditional threats.
Also under consideration is the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Commonly referred to as a drone medal, it is intended to honor drone pilots, cyber warriors and those who may not be forward-deployed and facing imminent personal risk, but still perform extraordinary missions, saving American lives or destroying enemy targets.
Congress recently changed the law governing the Purple Heart to broaden the definition of an attack by a “a foreign terrorist organization” to include what’s become known as “lone-wolf attacks.” That change is allowing the Air Force to award Stone a Purple Heart because the French law enforcement authorities are treating the train shooting as an act of terrorism.