Today, the President signed an Executive Order establishing two new medals for the men and women in uniform who have served as part of the global war on terrorism. The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal will be awarded to servicepersons who participate in an overseas expedition to fight terrorism, such as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal will be awarded to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve in some other capacity but don't deploy -- such as on a domestic-security mission under the auspices of Operation Noble Eagle.
"Any member who qualified for those medals by reason of service in operations to combat terrorism between September 11, 2001, and a terminal date to be determined by the Secretary of Defense, shall remain qualified for those medals," the executive order reads. "Upon application, any such member may be awarded either the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal or the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in lieu of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal or the Armed Forces Service Medal."
* * *
DoD and military service officials, including the Coast Guard, are working on provisions to award the medals.
What's the big deal? Cynics may say that the military hands out medals like Boy Scout merit badges, and there's a grain of truth in that for some services and units. However, these medals have concrete legal consequences for the servicepersons who receive them. Several years ago, the federal government's rules for awarding veteran's preferences changed. Veterans who served honorably on active duty but did not receive a campaign medal did not get any type of veterans preference under the new rules. To get a veterans preference, you had to meet certain specific criteria, such as having a campaign medal. That meant you had to deploy overseas for an operational mission, such as Grenada, Panama, Southwest Asia, Somalia, Bosnia or Haiti. Regular deployments to Korea or Okinawa didn't count; neither did overseas service in Europe. You had to have a campaign medal. Paradoxically, this meant an MP lieutenant friend who deployed his platoon to Naples, Italy, during the Kosovo conflict got a medal while I did not for my year of service in Korea near the DMZ.
So... here's the bottom line: This new campaign medal will enable the hundreds of thousands of personnel now serving overseas for Operation Enduring Freedom -- and the thousands of reservists who served at home -- to get a veteran's preference when they leave the service. I think this is the right thing to do, and I commend President Bush for signing this Executive Order.