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The Armed Forces Service Medal was established by President Bill Clinton on January 11, 1996. It was meant to eventually replace the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, although it has different criteria.

Description of the Medal

Armed Forces Service Medal

The Medal is a bronze with a diameter of 1 3/8 inches. The obverse, or front, shows a small torch, like the torch on the Statue of Liberty, with the words “ARMED FORCES SERVICE MEDAL” inscribed at the top. There are lines radiating out from behind the torch. The torch symbolizes freedom and leadership. On the back side, or the reverse, there is an eagle with his wings spread along with an inscription of "IN PURSUIT OF DEMOCRACY" and a laurel below. The laurel symbolizes achievement.

The ribbon has stripes running vertically of gold, dark green, light green, and blue. The gold stands for honor, the green for growth and life, and the blue is the same color that is used by the Department of Defense.

About the Armed Forces Service Medal

This award was intended for members of the Armed Forces who were involved in operations that had “significant activity” but that did not meet armed opposition or the threat of hostile action. “Significant activity” means the military operations are large, important, have a significant impact or are important internationally, and warrant the presentation of a service medal. It was meant to fill the gap between the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. It covers any operations after June 1, 1992.

Only military personnel serving in certain regions are qualified for this award with eligibility being determined by the Department of Defense. Recipients have to either serve for 30 consecutive days or 60 nonconsecutive days to be eligible, or serve aboard an aircraft that flies to, from, over, or within the region.

The Armed Forces Service Medal or AFSM, may also be given for peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations, actions that support the United Nations, or other assistance given to friendly nations. The AFSM may also be awarded for operations where the awarding of no other U.S. service medal is allowed. It may be given to members of the Navy or Marine Corps only if the Navy or Marine Corps expeditionary medals are judged to be inappropriate. If a person qualifies for a second AFSM, a bronze service star is given instead. The medal can be awarded posthumously.

Other Medals

The Medal was first meant to replace the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM), but instead fills a gap between the AFEM and the Humanitarian Service Medal. The Medal can be described as a non-combat parallel medal to the AFEM because the AFEM is given for combat missions while the AFSM is awarded for combat support missions.

The AFEM has been given for missions since July 1, 1958, and was established for military personnel who served in combat campaigns where there were hostile actions or the threat of hostile actions. It was also given for operations that supported the United Nations and helped out friendly countries. It was started because of all the smaller conflicts after World War II. So far, it has covered 45 combat operations.

The AFEM has an eagle on the front standing on a sword with a loosened scabbard. A compass rose is behind the eagle and laurel sprigs are placed between the inscriptions “Armed Forces” and “Expeditionary Service." The back has a shield with laurel branches and the words “United States of America" inscribed at the top. The ribbon has stripes of red, white, blue, gold, light blue, green, brown, and black.

The Humanitarian Service Medal was established on January 19, 1977. It is awarded to military personnel who have served in a humanitarian effort after April 1, 1975. It is a 1 1/4 inch bronze medal with an open palm on its front. The reverse has a branch of an oak tree in the middle with the words "FOR HUMANITARIAN SERVICE" in three lines above it. The inscription "UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES" appears along the bottom half of the medal around the edge. The ribbon has vertical stripes of white, purple, light blue, and dark blue. This medal is presented to persons who have distinguished themselves in humanitarian actions and does not apply to domestic affairs.