National Defense Service Medal: Details and Eligibility

Often abbreviated NDSM, the National Defense Service Medal, is awarded to those who have served an honorable service during dates of conflicts. The National Defense Service Medal is jokingly referred to as a participation medal because it is awarded for honorable active duty service. Although it may be the butt of a joke, the National Defense Service Medal is an important medal awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Dates awarded:

1950-1954 (Korean War)

1961-74 (Vietnam War

1990-1995 (Gulf War)

September 11, 2001-To Be Determined (Global War on Terror)

Criteria for the medal:

The National Defense Service medal is awarded to those who have served honorable active duty. In 1991 President George W. Bush issued an Executive Order 12776 to have the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) eligible to those who serve in the Reserve during the Gulf War.

Later the Department of Defense authorized Reserve and National Guard forces to be awarded the National Defense Service medal after the 9/11 attacks.

The medal is also authorized to those who are serving as cadets or midshipmen at the Air Force, Army or Naval Academies.

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The bronze star attachment is awarded for every subsequent award of the NDSM. For two awards of the National Defense Service Medal a bronze star is awarded, for three awards, two bronze stars, for four awards, three bronze stars are awarded.



The medals’ drapery, the ribbon the medallion hangs on, is red, gold, white, and blue. The gold center stripe represents high ideals, while the red, white, and blue stripes represent the United States flag. Red for hardiness and valor, white for purity of purpose, and blue for perseverance and justice.

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The front of the medallion has “National Defense” engraved above a bald eagle with inverted wings standing on a sword and palm branch. The Eagle is the national  emblem of the United States, the sword represents the Armed Forces, and the palm is a symbol of victory.

The back of the medallion has the U.S. shield amidst an oak leaf and laurel spray.