National Defense Service Medal

The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) is a service award of the United States Armed Forces established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.

National Defense Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Awarded by the Department of Defense[1]
TypeService medal
EligibilityMember of the United States Armed Forces during qualifying periods of national emergency
Awarded forMilitary service during periods of national emergency or any other periods designated by the Secretary of Defense.
Campaign(s)Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Global War on Terrorism
DescriptionObverse: Shows a North American bald eagle, perched on a sword and palm. Above this, in a semicircle, is the inscription "National Defense".
Reverse: Shows a shield, taken from the coat of arms of the United States; it is half encircled below with an open wreath, the right side of oak leaves and laurel leaves the left.
Ribbon: The ribbon has a wide yellow stripe in the center, flanked by narrow stripes of red, white, blue, white and wide red stripes.
ClaspsService star for subsequent awards
EstablishedExecutive Order 10448, April 22, 1953 (as amended by E.O. 11265, January 11, 1966; E.O. 12776, October 8, 1991; E.O. 13293, March 28, 2003.
First awardedApril 22, 1953 – July 27, 1954 (retroactive to June 27, 1950)
Last awardedMarch 28, 2003 – present (retroactive to September 11, 2001)
Next (higher)Army: Army of Occupation Medal
Air Force: Medal for Humane Action[2]
Navy: Navy Occupation Service Medal
Marine Corps: Navy Occupation Service Medal
Coast Guard: Navy Occupation Service Medal
Next (lower)Korean Service Medal
RelatedGlobal War on Terrorism Service Medal

Service ribbon and Campaign streamer


The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) was first intended to be a "blanket campaign medal" awarded to service members who served honorably during a designated time period of which a "national emergency" had been declared during a time of war or conflict. It may also be issued to active military members for any other period that the Secretary of Defense designates.

The NDSM was established by Executive Order 10448, issued by President Dwight Eisenhower on April 22, 1953. While no document is known which explains the rationale for the award, it was apparently established to recognize all service members who served during the Korean War to include those who did not serve in the war zone. (Service members who served in the war zone received the Korean Service Medal, established by President Harry Truman in 1950.)

Eligibility for the NDSM was expanded by executive orders issued in 1966, 1991 and 2003.

To date, the NDSM has been awarded for four specific time periods, which roughly correspond to the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War eras as well as the Global War on Terrorism.

Currently, the National Defense Service Medal is the oldest service medal (as opposed to decorations for particular achievements such as valor or meritorious service and Good Conduct Medals) currently awarded by all branches of the United States Armed Forces. The only two older currently awarded service medals are the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, established in 1919, and the Navy Expeditionary Medal, established in 1936. The oldest currently awarded combat decoration is the Medal of Honor, which was established in 1862, and the oldest currently awarded non-combat decoration is the Army's Distinguished Service Medal, established in 1918. The Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Army Good Conduct Medals were established in 1869, 1896, 1923 and 1941 respectively. The Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal was established in 1925.

As the NDSM has been awarded to all military personnel during four wartime periods, it has millions of recipients and is probably the most widely awarded medal in the history of the United States military, with the possible exception of World War II Victory Medal.

Periods of eligibility

The National Defense Service Medal is authorized for the following wars and time periods:[3]

War From To
Korean War June 27, 1950 July 27, 1954
Vietnam War January 1, 1961 August 14, 1974
Persian Gulf War August 2, 1990 November 30, 1995
Global War on Terrorism September 11, 2001 Present

Award criteria

The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) is awarded to anyone who serves on active duty in the United States Armed Forces during the above time periods.[4] Reserve Component service during the Korean and Vietnam periods, other than those Reserve Component personnel in a full-time status or on active duty greater than 89 days, did not qualify for award of the NDSM.

For service in the Persian Gulf War, members of the Reserve Component (in good standing), to include the National Guard, were initially awarded the NDSM when called to active duty service, but this was later expanded to include all members of the Reserve or National Guard in good standing on the Reserve Active Status List (or equivalent) during the eligibility period.[5]

For service in the Global War on Terrorism, Selected Reserve and National Guard members need only to have been in good standing to receive the NDSM and no active duty service is required.[6] Inactive Ready Reserve and Retired Reserve are not eligible to be awarded the NDSM unless called to active duty.

The medal is authorized to cadets and midshipmen at the military service academies after they are sworn into service, as well as pre-commission officer candidates/trainees at the Officer Candidate Schools or Officer Training Schools of the various U.S. Armed Forces; but is not granted to discharged or retired military personnel who did not serve in one of the above time periods; nor is it authorized for Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and midshipmen at colleges and universities who enlisted in the inactive reserve (i.e., Obligated Reserve Section or ORS) during qualifying periods.

The NDSM ranks fourth out of twenty-nine in the order of precedence of service medals. There is no time requirement for the medal's issuance, meaning that someone who joins the United States Armed Forces for simply a few days, and then receives an entry level discharge, would technically be entitled to the NDSM; in practice, however, military clerks will not add the NDSM on a DD Form 214 if the service member performed duty for less than 90 days from the completion of their initial entry training. This accounts for the medal's omission from many "uncharacterized" and "entry level" separation documents. Veterans who have this medal so omitted may apply to the military service departments to have the NDSM added to records via a DD Form 215.[7]

Additional awards

Additional awards of the National Defense Service Medal are authorized for members of the military who served in more than one of the eligible time periods. Each additional award is denoted by a 316-inch bronze service star attached to the suspension and service ribbon of the medal (a six award is indicated by one 316-inch silver star). A second award of the medal is not granted for reenlisting during the same time period or transferring between branches of service.[8] Recipients of three NDSMs are rare and no individual has received the NDSM for all four eligibility periods.

NDSM ribbons with 316 inch bronze stars
First award: service ribbon only
Second award: one 316-inch bronze star
Third award: two 316-inch bronze stars
Fourth award: three 316-inch bronze stars

See also


  1. "Issuances" (PDF). 2016.
  2. "Air Force Personnel Center - Awards and Decorations". Archived from the original on January 23, 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2012.
  3. National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) – AUTHORIZED CONFLICTS Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness.
  4. "National Defense Service Medal". The Institute of Heraldry. Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. Archived from the original on February 4, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  5. Executive Order 12776
  6. "Executive Order 13293" (PDF). Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  7. SECNAVINST 1650.1H 2006 4-16 page 128 Archived July 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  8. "National Defense Service Medal". Retrieved April 15, 2018.
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