see it clearly

Like most military medals, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal has a long and distinguished history. This medal is awarded to service men and women who, after July 1, 1958, have met with foreign opposition during military conflicts. It is also awarded for operations that support and assist allies and the United Nations. It was officially designated by President Kennedy on December 4, 1961, because of smaller conflicts occurring since World War II and the Korean War.

Description of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

This is a bronze medal with a diameter of 1 1/4 inches. On the front, or the obverse, is an eagle with its wings partially spread open holding a sword with a loosened scabbard. In the background is a compass rose with eight points, with the eagle being superimposed on top. Around the edge of the medal are the inscriptions “Armed Forces” at the top and “Expeditionary Service" on the bottom. Between the two inscriptions on both sides is a spray of laurel.

The reverse side of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal is the shield from the president’s seal. Below the shield are two laurel branches that meet at the bottom center of the medal separated by a bullet. The words “United States of America" are inscribed at the top.

The medal’s designer was Mercedes Lee with die-caster Frank King. The Eagle is an American bald eagle and represents the country and its military strength. The readiness of the Armed Forces is symbolized by the loosened scabbard. The willingness of the Armed Forces to serve anywhere in the world is indicated by the compass rose. The laurel sprays denotes achievement.

The ribbon of the medal has red, white, and blue vertical pinstripes in the middle with wider stripes of light blue (bluebird) on either side. From the inside out, the next rows are black, brown (spice brown), gold (golden yellow), and green. The light blue represents both the United Nations and the country’s goal of preserving freedom all over the world. It also stands for the US Air Force. The green and brown symbolize the land forces, the black stands for the oppressed areas of the world, and the gold represents achievement. There are a total of 13 stripes, which represent the original 13 colonies.


The amount of time that someone needs to serve to be considered for the medal is 30 consecutive days or 60 nonconsecutive days. If the operation was less than 30 days, the service had to have lasted for the entire time. If someone qualifies for more than one medal, that person is instead given a bronze service star for future military actions.

The military operation has to be such that hostile action was possible or actually happened. These conflicts are direct military campaigns, operations where the U.S. military was supporting the efforts of the United Nations, or rendering assistance to friendly nations.


The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, or AFEM, has been awarded for more than 45 military operations. The first operation for which the AFEM was awarded was the Cuban Missile Crises from 1962 to 1963. After that, the award was retroactively applied to actions in Lebanon, Quemoy, Matsu, the Congo, Taiwan, and Berlin. The AFEM was given for service in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, until the Vietnam Service Medal was established. The AFEM was originally meant to replace the expeditionary medals of the Marines and Navy. This was the case from 1962 to 1978, at which time the Navy Expeditionary Medal and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal began to be presented again. When the supply of Marine Corps Expeditionary Medals is depleted, the Navy Expeditionary Medal will be given to Navy or Marine Corps servicemen or women who are involved in qualified actions.

Because of the war on terrorism, a similar medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, was given for service during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. After June of 2005, it was replaced by the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal.

Another similar award is a decoration of the U.S. Air Force called the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon. It is awarded for service in Air Force deployments.

Although the AFEM is being phased out in favor of operation specific medals and the new Armed Forces Service Medal, it is still an active service medal.