The Pentagon has created a new medal to honor the thousands of U.S. troops who have deployed to Iraq or Syria to support operations against Islamic State militants.
The Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal will be awarded to service members who have deployed to Iraq or Syria or its airspace or territorial waters since June 15, 2014, a defense official said.
About 11,000 troops are already eligible for the new medal, which Defense Secretary Ash Carter will announce Wednesday.
To qualify, individuals must spend at least 30 consecutive days in Iraq or Syria or a total of 60 nonconsecutive days, a defense official said.
The 30-day minimum time threshold will be waived for any service member who is injured and evacuated out of the country or who engages in combat.
Thousands of troops will be eligible for the new medal. Previously troops who deployed to Iraq were eligible to receive a Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal. Troops who received that medal for past deployments will be allowed to exchange that medal for the new OIR medal.
U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division leave a C-130H Hercules as they arrive in Iraq to support Operation Inherent Resolve in February. The Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal will be awarded to service members who have deployed to Iraq or Syria or its airspace or territorial waters since June 15, 2014, it was announced Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Senior Airman James Richards/Air Force
The medal will feature a bronze disc 1¼ inches in diameter engraved with a scorpion and chain-mail covered hand. The ribbon will be striped with blue, teal, sand and orange stripes.
The new medal comes almost two years after the U.S. began sending troops back to Iraq in response to the extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
There are no more than 3,870 U.S. troops in Iraq but when including those troops on "temporary" deployment, the number is closer to 5,000, defense officials say. Troops on temporary deployment may still qualify for the medal if they meet the 30-day minimum threshold.
Eligibility for the Iraq Campaign Medal was ended in 2011 after the withdraw of U.S. troops.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.