National Defense Service Medal

The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) was established by President Eisenhower per Executive Order 10448, dated 22 April 1953, for service between 27 June 1950 and a date to be announced. On 17 June 1954, the Chief of Staff approved establishment of 27 July 1954 as the termination date for award of the NDSM.

The next period of eligibility coincided with the Vietnam era. Executive Order 11265, dated 11 January 1966, amended Executive Order 10488, to include a termination date and authorized the Secretary of Defense to establish periods of eligibility subsequent to 31 December 1960. Eligibility for award, commencing with the period after 31 December 1960, was established by DOD Directive 1348.7, dated 1 April 1966, and terminated effective 15 August 1974, per letter from Manpower and Reserve Affairs, subject: Termination of Eligibility for the National Defense Service Medal, dated 30 June 1974.

The NDSM was again authorized by memorandum, dated 20 February 1991, from Secretary of Defense Cheney for active service encompassing Southwest Asia service during the Persian Gulf war and its aftermath.  The renewed authorization covered dates on or after 2 August 1990 with no termination date established. The termination date was later established as 30 November 1995. Because of the expanded role of military reservists during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, the NDSM eligibility was extended to include drilling members of the select reserves.

The final award period encompasses service during the War on Terror.  The NDSM was reinstated by memorandum from The Deputy Secretary of Defense, dated 26 April 2002, from 11 September 2001 to a termination date to be determined in the future.


Establishing Authority & Effective Dates

The National Defense Service Medal was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Executive Order 10448 on April 22, 1953, amended January 11, 1966.

History & Symbology

The National Defense Service Medal is a bronze medallion showing an American Bald eagle perched on a sword and palm, designed by Thomas Hudson Jones. It was affectionately known as the "firewatch" medal by Vietnam veterans and the "pizza stain" medal by Desert Storm era veterans. The Heraldic Division, Quartermaster General’s Office, was requested to propose designs for the NDSM and designs created by Mr. Jones were submitted to the G1 on 26 May 1953. A committee appointed by DOD, which included representatives of all services, met on 27 May 1953 and 3 June 1953 and selected the design for final approval. The eagle, our National emblem, together with the shield of the Coat of Arms of the United States is used to symbolize the defense of the United States. The combination of oak and palm leaves signify strength and preparedness. Order of precedence and wear policy for medals awarded to Army personnel is contained in AR 670-1. Policy for awards, approving authority and supply of medals is contained in AR 600-8-22.

Medal Information

The NDSM is struck on a Bronze, 1 ¼ inches in diameter. The obverse of the medallion portrays an eagle spreading inverted wings and standing on both a sword and palm branch. The words, ''NATIONAL DEFENSE'' are arrayed in a arch above the eagle. The reverse of the bronze medal is is a shield taken from the Coat of Arms of the USA. The shield is framed in an open wreath in the form of an inverted arch. The right side of the wreath is made of oak leaves and the left side is comprised of laurel leaves. The red stripes going from the edges inward represent the color of Mars, the Roman god of War, and are also symbolic of fortitude and courage. The central golden stripe flanked by pinstripes of blue, white and red are taken from the American Defense Service Medal, the precedent medal upon which the National Defense Service Medal is based. The gold represents the golden opportunity of the youth of America to serve the Nation, represented by the national colors as embodied by the blue, white and red pinstripes.