A Breakdown of the Various Global War on Terrorism Medals

September 11, 2001 is a day that will forever be etched into the minds of civilians and military members alike. It was a clear, sunny morning and a regular Tuesday until America was attacked by the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

Since that terrible day, the United States has deployed 2.77 million service members across the world in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). For many, their military service was a call to defend America against the threat of terror and, consequently, their freedoms.

It was an appropriate response, given the atrocities committed at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the horrific tragedy that ended Flight 93 at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We, as Americans, are fortunate and blessed to have brave people willing to raise their right hand and take an oath to defend our nation.

scouts pull overwatch in afghanistan

070822-A-6849A-667 — Scouts from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), pull overwatch during Operation Destined Strike while 2nd Platoon, Able Company searches a village below the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan Aug. 22.

Taken on May 29, 2006

These brave men and women deserve to be recognized for their unwavering courage and willing participation in the continued fight against terror. Whether it’s in the form of a commemorative military medal or an authorized GWOT military medal, it’s important that service members are distinguished for their sacrifices made while serving in our nation’s longest war.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the United States government to recognize the need for GWOT military medals, and two medals were established by former President George W. Bush in 2003: The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (GWOTEM) and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (GWOTSM).


On March 12, 2003, President George W. Bush established the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal through the issuance of Executive Order 13289. This military medal recognizes the outstanding job of U.S. military members in their efforts to combat terrorism overseas.


Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal

Although the initial award was limited to military personnel deployed overseas in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, it has since expanded to include multiple operations abroad. In 2015, the eligibility for the GWOTEM was extended to include Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve.

The GWOTEM is awarded exclusively to service members serving abroad on or after September 11, 2001 to a date yet to be determined. Service members who contributed or participated to the Global War on Terrorism exclusively on U.S. soil are not eligible for the expeditionary medal.

  • Criteria—Awarded to members of the Armed Forces who must be assigned or mobilized to a unit participating in operations for at least 30 consecutive days or 60 nonconsecutive days in the designated area of eligibility. If they were hurt or killed in combat, the time requirement is waived.

    The service member may also be eligible for the award if they meet the following criteria: 1) be engaged in combat against the enemy or duty that is equally as dangerous as combat; 2) be wounded or killed while participating in the operation, requiring medical attention or evacuation from the area; and 3) be an aircrew member flying into, out of, within and over the area of eligibility. Each day that one or more sorties is flown in accordance to the criteria counts as one day toward the 30-day consecutive or 60-day nonconsecutive requirement.

  • Description—The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Ribbon features a drapery with scarlet, white and blue to symbolize the United States, light blue for world peace and gold to denote excellence. The medal is a bronze disc with a shield adapted slightly from the Great Seal of the United States. The shield surmounts two sword hilts (which denote readiness and resolve) and features an American bald eagle with wings displayed, grasping a serpent within its claws. The wreath surrounding the eagle, shield and swords denotes honor and achievement.


  • Recognized Operations—Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Nomad Shadow, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel and Odyssey Lightning.
  • Devices—The GWOTEM is authorized for three military ribbon devices for those who qualify. As of February 2015, bronze and silver Service Stars may be worn to recognize different deployments in approved operations. Arrowhead devices are approved for qualifying Army and Air Force service members. The Fleet Marine Force Combat Operation Insignia may be worn by qualifying Navy service members (also authorized to be worn on the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal and Afghanistan Campaign Medal).
  • Additional Information—In 2005, the GWOTEM was no longer awarded for service in Afghanistan and Iraq, as both military operations had their own campaign medal. On November 29, 2004, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13363 detailing the issuance of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal (ACM) and the Iraqi Campaign Medal (ICM) in lieu of the GWOTEM for military service members who participated in military operations associated with Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) campaigns.


Established on the same date as the GWOTEM by the same executive order, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal is awarded to service members who have participated or served in support of the Global War on Terrorism for operations occurring on or after September 11, 2001 to a date yet to be determined. Unlike the expeditionary medal, the GWOTSM does not require service members to be deployed abroad to receive the award.


Global War on Terrorism Service Medal

The award was initially limited to airport security operations and service members who supported operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. The GWOTSM is less restrictive than the GWOTEM and is similar to the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM), reflective of active duty service during time of war.

Regarding the order of precedence, the GWOTEM is higher in precedence than the GWOTSM. Currently, the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal/Ribbon precedes both the GWOTEM and the GWOTSM, and are followed, in precedence, by both the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal when worn on the service uniform and likewise for ribbons on the service uniform jacket and shirt.

  • Criteria—The GWOTSM is awarded to military members of the Armed Forces who have participated in or supported GWOT operations outside of designated AOEs for a minimum of 30 consecutive days or 60 nonconsecutive days. If a service member is hurt or killed while engaging in combat, the time requirement is waived.
  • Description—The ribbon is scarlet, white and blue to represent the United States, with gold denoting excellence. The medal is a bronze disc with an American bald eagle spreading its wings. A shield featuring 13 vertical bars is inlaid on the eagle’s breast, representing the United States. The eagle holds an olive branch in one claw (representing the drive for peace) and three arrows in the other (denoting vigilance, resolve and peace). The eagle protects the globe centered above it, symbolizing America’s resolve to combat and overcome global terrorism. The laurel wreath on the reverse side also signifies the drive for peace.
  • Recognized Operations—Airport Security Operations, Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel and Pacific Eagle–Philippines.
  • Devices—There are no devices authorized for the GWOTSM.
  • Additional Information—Although service members can receive both the GWOTEM and the GWOTSM, they must meet the eligibility requirement of each award. One award can’t be used to justify the other. Also note that the GWOTSM can be awarded posthumously.


There is a rich history of organizations designing and stamping commemorative medals to honor the service and sacrifice of our military members and their families, with commemorative medals reflecting American military campaigns dating back to the Revolutionary War, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and today’s Global War on Terrorism. Commemorative medals have a rich history depicting and honoring battles and the troops who fought in these specific military campaigns.

Medals of America offers a Global War on Terrorism Service Commemorative Medal to honor those who enlisted to serve in America’s Armed Forces after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We are delighted to honor their service and pledge to defend “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all human beings, and fight for the freedom of those individuals oppressed by terrorist organizations around the world. It reflects a unique time in America’s history as the United States battles daily against an enemy that is unlike any enemy our military has battled in the past. It reflects their military service and participation in the nation’s Global War on Terrorism.


Global War on Terrorism Service Commemorative Medal

We are honored to have struck our own bronze medallion that hangs proudly from a ribbon of red, white, blue, yellow and black–reminiscent of the GWOTEM and GWOTSM. And like all medals at Medals of America, it comes in either a standard finish or an anodized finish. All our commemorative medals are recognized as the “official medal designs” and awarded by the United States government, state government and veterans’ organization to recognize our American veterans’ service to the nation.

While the GWOT Service Commemorative Medal and, in fact, all commemorative medals are not authorized for wear by active duty military service members, they are still a great way to recognize the service of both active duty and veteran military service members. It’s perfect for you or a loved one’s shadow box, medal rack or ribbon rack, or even as a collector’s item for that special someone who is passionate about American military history. We can help you build the appropriate display for yourself or loved one with our shadow box builder and provide you the right insignia, medals, ribbons, badges, plates and even coins to make it unique and special–something you’d be proud to display in your office or at home.


These three medals are the newest service recognition awards designed to reflect this important period in our nation’s history. During President George W. Bush’s address to Congress on September 20, 2001, just nine days after the horrific events on American soil, he stated the following:

“…enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.”

The Global War on Terrorism is a different kind of warfare fought by America’s Armed Forces, focused on terrorist networks overseas and at home. However, the roots of American resolve were forged in its response to the attack on American soil by the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and our resolve has not wavered ever since. These military medals are not only a representation of the longest ongoing fight in our nation’s history, but also a testimonial to the strength and courage of those who have served in the war against terror.

medals displayed on military uniform


Although the Global War on Terrorism is a war like no other America has fought in the past, its response (and response of our Allies) is as familiar to the world as the red, white and blue stars and stripes. Such a significant era in American military history warrants a special series of military medals and commemorations to recognize the true sacrifices of our military service members.

If you or a loved one has served or continues to serve in the fight against terrorism, display your military medals and ribbons exactly how they deserve to be displayed—with unwavering pride. Consider showcasing your prized possessions with an authentic shadow box display case or ribbon rack builder for a beautiful testimonial to your military service.

Have questions about our ribbon rack builder or need help choosing the best shadow box display case for your loved one? Medals of America is happy to help! Talk with one of our Military Awards Specialists and start upgrading your awards display today.