The First Landing: The Navy / Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal

Picture this: gigantic waves crash against a ship’s hull causing it to pitch back and forth. Far off in the distance is an enormous, sandy beach. Lowered into the water are smaller transports and rope ladders stretching down from the deck. Dozens of men clamor their way down and the transport ferries them to shore. It pulls into shallow water at low tide, the causeways open, and soldiers quickly file out. They’re prepared for anything the moment they hit the beaches. They’re the vanguard of an expeditionary force for the U.S. Marine Corps brought there by the U.S. Navy.

(L) Navy Expeditionary Medal, (R) Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal

Continuing with the ongoing series of U.S. Armed Forces awards and decorations, the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal (NEM, MCEM) are two of the oldest actively awarded medals. They also hold the distinction of being the only two whose retroactive criteria extends back into the 19th century. Established by an Act of Congress in 1919 (MCEM) and 1936 (NEM), both can be awarded to any Marine or Navy personnel who participated in an expeditionary operation on foreign soil dating back to 1874. Qualifications for the NEM and MCEM include the following:

  • Participated in a landing on foreign territory
  • Engaged in operations against a hostile enemy force
  • Operated under circumstances that warrant special or meritorious recognition

In a prior post on Navy and Marine Corps medals, the two branches share the same awards. The NEM and MCEM are exceptions though. Only veterans in either branch are eligible to receive that respective award, i.e. only Navy veterans can receive the NEM. Additionally, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) can be awarded to Navy and Marine Corp personnel in lieu of the NEM or MCEM, provided they meet specific criteria. The AFEM has been authorized for over forty military campaigns since 1958 and a minority include operations that doubly qualify for a NEM or MCEM. More recent operations such as Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Inherent Resolve are campaigns qualifying only the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (GWOTEM). Unfortunately, with each foreign nation where U.S. operations are ongoing having their own campaign medal and newer awards like the GWOTEM, issuance of the NEM and MCEM have declined.

The veteran’s Official Military Personnel Folder (OMPF) typically lists the name of the operation that qualified them for the award. In some cases however where the nature of said operation is classified, that information is omitted and what remains is only the order authorizing the award. This is especially important for Navy review boards overseeing changes to OMPFs or providing duplicate copies of awards and decorations.

For a complete list of authorized Navy and Marine Corps expeditions that can receive the NEM and MCEM, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command webpage: Navy/MC Service and Campaign Awards.

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