La remise de médailles militaires aux Etats-Unis repose sur un système établi voici un siècle, qu’une double conjonction remet en cause de façon croissante depuis quelques années : le caractère asymétrique de la menace d’une part, la technologie d’autre part. Parmi les questions âprement débattues au sein du Pentagone, celle de déterminer si les actions militaires des pilotes de drones peuvent être ou non considérées comme des actes de bravoure au sens traditionnel du terme a été tranchée par la création de nouvelles catégories de récompenses.

L’action héroïque de Spencer Stone pour déjouer l’attentat dans le train Thalys le 21 août dernier a relancé le débat, à un moment où Ashton Carter doit prendre des mesures consécutives à un audit en cours depuis deux ans. Dans la mesure où la France a caractérisé l’attentat d’acte terroriste, il a été possible pour l’armée de l’Air de contourner les restrictions liées au fait que Spencer Stone ait agi en-dehors d’une zone de combat. Il ne lui était  ainsi pas possible de recevoir ni la « Bronze Star » ni la « Silver Star », mais  il vient d’être décoré de la « Airmen medal » et du « Purple Heart ».


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When the Air Force sought to honor Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone for his heroic actions in stopping a terrorist gunman on a French train this summer, the options were limited.

While Stone, who was on leave, risked his life to stop a Moroccan-born gunman who police say was inspired by Islamic extremism, the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones.

So he was not eligible for traditional valor medals like the Bronze Star or Silver Star because those 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, an honor that technically ranks above the Bronze Star in the military’s official medals “order of precedence,” but is far lesser known because it recognizes heroism “under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an enemy.” (…)

Carter is expected to approve potentially far-reaching changes to the rules governing awards that in some cases are more than 100 years old. The review will address an array of questions that have arisen since Sept. 11, 2001, as the military has faced an increasing number of nontraditional and “asymmetrical” threats.

The Pentagon’s high-level review began in 2013 amid controversy over a proposed “drone medal,” officially known as the Distinguished Warfare Medal. It was intended to honor drone pilots, cyber warriors and others who may not be forward-deployed and facing imminent personal risk, but nevertheless might perform extraordinary missions that have an immediate impact on the battlefield by saving American lives or destroying important enemy targets.

The medal initially was proposed by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a strong personal advocate of drones and their expanded role in national security.

But it was quashed by his successor, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former combat infantryman wounded twice in Vietnam, who questioned whether high-tech skills employed far from any actual battlefield should be conflated with time-honored courage in the face of immediate and potentially deadly danger.

One potential solution that Carter may be looking at would be to honor drone pilots and cyber warriors with a “distinguishing device” that could be added to an existing medal such as the Bronze Star.

The Pentagon is unlikely to ask Congress to revise any laws that govern basic criteria for top medals, according to an official familiar with the current review.

Last year, Congress 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.” The new law says troops are eligible if an attack is “inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”

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. (…)

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