Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has decided that more than 22,000 troops who directly supported the 1999 Kosovo campaign will not be allowed to pin on the medal designed to honor those who served in the conflict, a Pentagon spokeman said.

In a response to a Stars and Stripes query, the spokesman, Jim Turner, confirmed the more than two-year-old request by the U.S. European Command to ease controversial eligibility rules for the Kosovo Campaign Medal had been denied.

Turner said the decision was made based on the Department of Defense’s desire to maintain geographic-based criteria for campaign medals.

Rumsfeld’s decision had not filtered down to the field on Thursday.

“We have not yet received a final response to the waiver request,” said Cmdr. Jeff Breslaw, EUCOM spokesman.

The waiver request was initially endorsed by now-retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston in the summer of 2001, while he was still head of the U.S. European Command. That request, however, had sat in bureaucratic limbo at the Pentagon for more than two years.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has approved a medal of its own, the Air and Space Campaign Medal, for thousands of airmen who were directly involved in the campaign to push Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo.

The other services, Turner said, are currently “reviewing possible award recognition for those members who provide direct support outside the area of eligibility for traditional campaign awards.”

While the new Air Force medal was authorized in April 2002, the service decided who is eligible to pin on the award this week, according to Master Sgt. Al Salinas, an awards expert at the Air Force Personnel Center in San Antonio, Texas.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to spell out exactly who’s eligible,” he said.

Those authorized include airmen who, regardless of where they served, directly supported any one of the following operations in and around Kosovo:

• Allied Force — March 24, 1999, to June 10, 1999.• Joint Guardian — June 11, 1999 to a date to be determined.• Allied Harbor — April 4, 1999, to Sept. 1, 1999.• Sustain/Shining Hope — April 4, 1999, to July 10, 1999.• Noble Anvil — March 24, 1999, to July 20, 1999.• Task Force Hawk — April 5, 1999, to June 24, 1999.• Task Force Saber — March 31, 1999, to July 20, 1999.• Task Force Falcon — June 11, 1999, to TBD.• Task Force Hunter – April 1, 1999, to Nov. 1, 1999.

“Personnel who provided direct support for 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days from outside the geographic area of combat or from home station qualify for the ASCM,” according to the just-published rules for the new medal.

The medal, Salinas said, breaks new ground because it recognizes people who “served outside the combat zone, but still directly supported the effort.”

The medal criteria defines such direct support as sortie generation, intelligence, surveillance, targeting and computer network attack operations.

“In addition, squadron commanders may determine other functions that meet the intent of this award,” according to the new award criteria.

The move comes after more than two years of bureaucratic wrangling to waive eligibility rules for the Kosovo Campaign Medal, which awarded the medal only to those serving in and around the Balkans and Italy.

In practical terms, that means troops who performed often-identical jobs at bases in Spain, England, Germany and Turkey — not to mention the United States — are not eligible for the Kosovo Campaign Medal, or KCM.

Prior to this award being created, the Air Force was in the position of having awarded scores of Bronze Stars for actions during the campaign to servicemembers who are not authorized to wear the campaign medal itself.

Even those who served at the campaign nerve center at NATO headquarters in Belgium are not authorized to wear the medal. Gen. Wesley Clark, who led the war as NATO’s top commander, had to be given a waiver by Pentagon brass before being awarded the medal during his retirement ceremony in 2000.

“It makes no sense for the command that planned and executed the operation to be excluded from the medal criteria,” said Naval Reservist Derek Reveron, who was activated to serve at Clark’s headquarters during the war.

“It is completely illogical for a ground crew in northern Italy to receive the medal, but not the operation’s commander,” Reveron said. “Those that flew in combat and actually risked their lives received other medals — the KCM is just a campaign medal. Everyone who participated in the campaign should receive it.”

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