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The Korea Defense Service Medal.
The Korea Defense Service Medal. ()

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Make room for one more ingredient in your chest salad.

The Department of Defense announced Monday the creation of the Korean Defense Service Medal, capping a years-long effort at recognizing those who have served in South Korea since July 1954.

“The KDSM is a service medal to give special recognition for the sacrifices and contributions made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have served or are serving in the Republic of Korea,” read a Pentagon news release announcing the creation.

“The area of eligibility encompasses all land area of the Republic of Korea, and the contiguous water out to 12 nautical miles, and all air spaces above the land and water areas.”

The announcement means hundreds of thousands of current and former U.S. servicemembers are eligible for the bronze-colored disc, suspended from a green ribbon with blue, gold and white stripes.

The effort gained steam about three years ago, when a member of the Korean Defense Veterans Alliance and constituent of Rep. Elton Gallegly wondered why those who served in South Korea after the war weren’t awarded a campaign medal. Gallegly sponsored a 2001 bill to create the medal. After the Senate passed a similar measure, President Bush signed it into law in December 2002.

Veterans and those who have served in South Korea hailed the decision. More than 37,000 troops serve in South Korea each year, across a heavily fortified border from the million-man North Korean military. Since 1953, there have been 40,000 reported armistice breaches, and more than 1,200 servicemembers have died on peacetime duty.

It has taken until now for the Pentagon’s approval process to complete the creation, officials said.

Soldiers in South Korea seemed pleased, though a bit nonplussed, about the announcement.

“That’s cool. It gives everyone something else to put in their jacket for being here,” said 18th Medical Command Spc. Lisa Jensen, referring to military personnel files that help determine promotions.

“Hey, I get another one to go with the Overseas Service [Ribbon]. But really, it’s nice that the soldiers here now and the ones who were here before are getting recognized.”

According to the Pentagon, each military department will make its own regulations for processing, awarding and wearing of the medal. That includes provisions for veterans, retirees and next of kin for deceased servicemembers.

The two-sided medal has a Korean “circle dragon” on the front, encircled by the words “Korea Defense Service Medal” and sprigs of bamboo and laurel.

The four-clawed dragon is “a traditional symbol of Korea and represents intelligence and strength of purpose,” the Pentagon release said. The sprig of laurel symbolizes “honorable endeavor and victory.” The bamboo is a reference to Korea, officials said.

The reverse side of the medal has two crossed swords superimposed on a map of the Korean peninsula, ringed by a circle “garnished with five points.” The swords signify defense of freedom and the readiness to engage in combat to protect that freedom, officials said. The five points are meant to evoke a traditional five-petal symbol found on Korean armor.

The medal hangs from a ribbon of green (symbolizing Korea), blue (indicating overseas service and commitment to peace), gold (excellence) and white (idealism and integrity).

Who's eligible ...

The KDSM period of eligibility is from July 28, 1954, to a future date to be determined by the Secretary of Defense.

Servicemembers must have been assigned, attached or mobilized to units operating in the area of eligibility and have been physically deployed in the area of eligibility for 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days or meet one of the following criteria:

Be engaged in actual combat during an armed conflict, regardless of the time in the area of eligibility.Wounded or injured in the line of duty and require medical evacuation from the area of eligibility.While participating as a regularly assigned aircrew member flying sorties into, out of, within or over the area of eligibility in support of military operations. Each day that one or more sorties are flown in accordance with these criteria shall count as one day toward the 30- or 60-day requirement.Personnel who serve in operations and exercises conducted in the area of eligibility are considered eligible for the award as long as the basic time criteria is met. Due to the extensive time period for KDSM eligibility, the nonconsecutive service period for eligibility remains cumulative throughout the entire period.The KDSM may be awarded posthumously, and only one KDSM award is authorized for any individual.

Source: Department of Defense

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