WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has authorized awarding an existing medal to troops who are deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The announcement came less than one month after Pentagon spokespersons emphatically denied to TMN that no medal would be given to border forces.
The Armed Forces Service Medal was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 through an executive order. It is designated for troops who, as a unit, participate in a U.S. military operation “deemed to be a significant activity and who encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action,” according to Pentagon regulations.
President Donald Trump cited the threat of invasion on the U.S.-Mexico border as a reason to order the deployment as well as shift money from other Pentagon funding projects to pay for the border deployment.
Those qualified for the medal are troops who have served since the initial deployment of National Guard forces in April 2018. The deployment of active forces started around Nov. 1, 2018. The deployments are open-ended for the Guard and continue to be extended for active troops.
The Pentagon said it did not have a running total of how many troops qualified for the medal. It could go to those who were deployed within 115 miles from the Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California, as well as forces at sea who are within 24 nautical miles off the coast.
The last time active troops went to the U.S.-Mexico border, in 1916, Congress issued the Mexican Border Campaign Medal. The current deployment meets the same general criteria for its own medal, according to Pentagon regulations.
According to Pentagon regulations, a service medal or designation can be initiated by the White House, the Pentagon or Congress, but must be approved by Congress. Pentagon officials interviewed by TMN said they regularly review recent military operations to determine if any qualify or deserve to be recognized. A thick manual outlines procedures and criteria is used.
Generally, to qualify individuals must spend at least 30 consecutive days in the operational field or a total of 60 nonconsecutive days, Pentagon officials said.
Congress established the Mexican Border Service Medal on July 9, 1918. It was awarded “for service between May 9, 1916, and March 24, 1917, or with the Mexican Border Patrol between January 1, 1916, to April 6, 1917,” according to records.
“To be awarded the Mexican Border Service Medal, a service member must have served with the United States Army, along the Mexican border, or must have been assigned as a Regular or National Guard member to the Mexican Border Patrol,” according to Pentagon records.
When TMN broke the story on possible medals for the border deployment last fall, the story noted that the new border deployment force qualified for the Armed Forces Service Medal.
That medal was made available to some troops who served in various operations in the Balkans in the 1990s as well as some U.S. forces in relation to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita relief efforts, among others, according to Pentagon records.