The Depot

Medals Authorized for COVID-19 Response

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan approved the award of the Humanitarian Service Medal and/or the Armed Forces Service Medal to eligible military personnel for qualifying coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) operations and activities. The period of the award is from Jan. 31, 2020 to a date to be determined.

“Given the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no designated area of eligibility, and award authorities determine eligibility based on the nature of the qualifying DoD COVID-19 operation and/or activity,” Donovan’s memo said.

Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel are eligible for the service medals as outlined in DoD Manual 1348.33, DoD Manual of Military Decorations and Awards — Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals. Award authorities determine which operations and/or activities are humanitarian in nature and warrant award of the Humanitarian Service Medal. Service personnel are not eligible for both the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal for the same period of service, activities, or deployment.

The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized for award to service members who deploy for at least 30 days (consecutively or non-consecutively). Donovan’s memo stated that the deployment requirement for the medal is waived for non-deployed service members, provided the service members were reassigned from their regular duties to perform COVID-19 operations or activities for at least 30 days. The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized after one day of service if the service member contracted the virus.

The Defense Department said that the military department secretaries determine eligibility for award to service members in his or her respective military department based on DoD award criteria. The chief of the National Guard Bureau determines eligibility for National Guard members who do not fall under the purview of a secretary of a military department.  

Service personnel with questions about the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal should contact their respective military department.

The Humanitarian Service Medal was established in 1977 and it recognizes service members who distinguish themselves by meritorious direct participation in a DoD-approved significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature. The Humanitarian Service Medal may be awarded to individual Service members, or entire military units. 

The Armed Forces Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who participate as members of U.S. military units in a military operation that is deemed significant by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile actions.  

According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Department of Defense spokesperson, “DoD has a total of more than 4,500 active duty personnel supporting COVID-19 response. That number includes 461 medical personnel providing direct support in Texas and California hospitals, and a variety of other activities across the country,” Mitchell said. “The National Guard has more than 24,000 Air and Army National Guard members supporting the effort nationwide,” Mitchell said.

As of July 29, 2020, the U.S. military has had 37,824 cases of COVID-19. A total of 58 people died in the Department of Defense from the coronavirus, including military, contractor, civilian and dependent personnel.