GOP lawmakers take aim at drone medal ranking

Three Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday to block the Pentagon from rating the Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone pilots equal to or higher than the Purple Heart.

Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Timothy Murphy of Pennsylvania and Tom Rooney of Florida, introduced the bill, according to a statement from Hunter's office. All three are military veterans.

The new blue, red and white-ribboned medal will be awarded to individuals for "extraordinary achievement" related to a military operation that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike other combat medals, it does not require the recipient risk his or her life to get it.

The medal, introduced by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta two weeks ago, will be considered a bit higher in ranking than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, but is lower than the Silver Star, according to defense officials.

"There is nothing wrong with having a military award that recognizes commendable actions off the battlefield, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that combat valor awards are not diminished in any way," Hunter said in a statement.

Rooney, an Army veteran, said he has "grave concerns" with the Pentagon's decision to rank the new medal above the Purple Heart and "other traditional combat valor medals."

"There is no greater sacrifice than risking your own life to save another on the battlefield, and the order of precedence should appropriately reflect the reverence we hold for those willing to make that sacrifice," Rooney said in a statement.

The Pentagon's decision has been met with criticism from veterans' groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has called on the Department of Defense to reconsider the new medal's placement in the order of precedence for military awards.

Over the last decade of war, remotely piloted Predators and Reapers have become a critical weapon to gather intelligence and conduct airstrikes against terrorists or insurgents around the world. They have been used extensively on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and northern Africa.

According to the Pentagon criteria, the medal gives the military a way to recognize a single act that directly affects a combat operation, doesn't involve an act of valor, and warrants an award higher than the Bronze Star.

The medal is a brass pendant, nearly two inches tall, with a laurel wreath that circles a globe. There is an eagle in the center.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.