Signaling the end of a 21-year era, the Department of Defense has told the military services to sharply restrict the award of the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal beginning Sept. 11, according to a memo obtained by Military Times.
The June 24 memo, signed by the DoD’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, Gilbert Cisneros, also limits award of the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal to just troops who serve on the ground in Syria or operate within 12 nautical miles of its coast or airspace. The policy went into effect July 1.
The GWOT-SM has been a virtually automatic award for troops since its introduction in 2003.
The Army, for example, determined in March 2004 that all active duty troops who served after Sept. 11, 2001, merited the award because they’d all “served in some way in support of GWOT,” according to the Human Resources Command website.
And while blanket eligibility was later amended to require that members serve 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days “in support of” a GWOT operation, units have loosely interpreted the “support” criteria and awarded the medal regardless of actual connection to the ongoing conflict. Units have argued that even 30 days in garrison counted as part of the broader GWOT-focused deployment readiness cycle.
But after Sept. 11, “the service member must have directly served in a designated military [counter-terrorism] operation” for at least 30 days, the memo says.
It clarifies that direct service doesn’t include the previous “support” loophole as well. The memo describes direct service as someone who “deployed on orders for a designated CT operation [or] directly supported a [designated] CT operation on a full-time basis while assigned to an organization conducting a CT operation.”
According to a DoD list last updated in March, ongoing CT operations eligible for the award include:
- Operation Noble Eagle, a North American airspace patrol mission.
- Operation Enduring Freedom, which continues in East Africa.
- Operation Enduring Sentinel, the over-the-horizon CT mission focused on potential threats in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.
- Operation Inherent Resolve, the long-running fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
- Operation Pacific Eagle — Philippines, a dormant CT operation that has not had a new inspector general oversight report since November 2020.
Despite the changes to the GWOT and Inherent Resolve campaign medals, the memo doesn’t address whether there will be any changes to National Defense Service Medal eligibility.
Should DoD cease awarding the GWOT-era NDSM, which is automatically awarded to people who join the military during a designated conflict period, it would represent a symbolic close to the wars that began after Sept. 11.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.