How to tell where a US soldier or veteran has served based on their medals

Military medalsMedals awarded to Army Master Sgt. Charles McDaniel, who went missing during the Korean War, include several awards from World War II as well as his service in Korea.Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images

  • The US military has a host of awards and medals for its service members.
  • Some awards, like the Medal of Honor and the Silver and Bronze Star awards, are given to service members who display bravery in combat.
  • Others are given for serving in specific operations or even missions - these are known as campaign awards.
  • Depending on the medals a service member or veteran wears, it's typically possible to determine which wars or regions of the world they have served in.
  • Scroll through to see campaign awards for operations and missions since the Korean War.
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Service in war time

Service in war time

The ISIS fight

The ISIS fight

Service members who have supported Operation Inherent Resolve, the US mission in Syria to combat the Islamic State, are now eligible for a medal.

The medal was approved in 2016 — prior to that, service members who supported OIR were awarded the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary (GWOT-E) medal.

Global war on terror

Global war on terror

There are two different campaign awards for service in the US's war against terror.

The GWOT Service medal is awarded to service members who serve in either a direct or indirect role in support of operations during the global war on terror, including personnel stateside who process paperwork for deployed troops.

The GWOT Expeditionary Medal, seen on the left, is more specific — service members must deploy for service in an anti-terrorism operation. Ground troops deployed to Somalia for over 30 days, for example, would qualify for this medal.

A service member who qualifies for the GWOT-E typically also qualifies for the service medal.

Read more: Trump's Pentagon has expanded its secretive war on terror to 80 countries — here's what we know

Afghanistan

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Campaign award is given to service members who complete at least 30 days in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Iraq

Iraq

The Iraq Campaign Medal is awarded to service members who deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

For both the Afghanistan and Iraq campaign awards, service members are only eligible for one of each, regardless of how many times they deployed to the country.

Stars may be worn on the ribbons as indicators of participation in specific, designated missions during the operation.

Antarctica

Antarctica

The Coast Guard and Navy have Arctic equivalents, which differ slightly but both reverse the color scheme of the Antarctic ribbon and medal, with black or dark blue in the center and white on the outer edges.

Kosovo

Kosovo

The NATO bombing campaign led to the retreat of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. A peace-keeping force remains there to this day.

Liberation of Kuwait

Liberation of Kuwait

Depending on their specific mission and location, service members who participated in the liberation of Kuwait may have qualified for awards presented by the governments of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

The government of Kuwait authorized US personnel to wear this award if they served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

Southwest Asia: Desert Storm and Desert Shield

Southwest Asia: Desert Storm and Desert Shield

Vietnam service

Vietnam service

The Vietnam service ribbon has a yellow background with three red lines in the center and a green line on each side.

The award was given to service members who served in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or air or water space in that region between 1965 and 1973.

Other medals depicted here are the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, and Purple Heart.

South Vietnam

South Vietnam

This medal was awarded to service members who provided direct combat support to South Vietnam's Armed Forces during the war.

Criteria included those who served for six months or more in South Vietnam or who were injured, captured, or killed in the line of duty.

Korean war

Korean war

The Republic of Korea Korean War Service Medal was authorized in 1999 to honor the sacrifices of Korean War veterans.

This award specifically designates veterans who served in the country of Korea during the war.

How to tell where a US soldier or veteran has served based on their medals

How to tell where a US soldier or veteran has served based on their medals

South Korea

South Korea

Recognizing that the Korean War never ended, the Defense Department authorized the Korean Defense Service Medal for service members who deployed to or served in the Republic of Korea after July 1954.

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