The Humanitarian Service Medal

The Humanitarian Service Medal is a bronze medallion that measures 1 1/4 inches in diameter. It bears the image of a right hand pointing diagonally upward with an open palm centered on the front side. The hand is said to symbolize a giving or helping hand. At the top of the reverse, the words "For Humanitarian Service" appear in three lines. Below this is an oak branch with three leaves and three acorns, and even farther down, around the outside edge of the medal, is the inscription, "​the United States Armed Forces."

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The Ribbon

New Jersey Air National Guard Airmen stand at attention after receiving the Humanitarian Service Medal

 Master Sgt. Mark Olsen/Wikimedia Commons

The Humanitarian Service Medal’s ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and it has stripes. The first stripe is 3/16 of an inch of imperial purple followed by 1/16 of an inch of white, 5/16 of an inch of a bluebird, and a middle stripe of 1/4 of an inch of flag blue. The remaining stripes are 5/16 of an inch of a bluebird, 1/16 of an inch of white; and 3/16 of an inch of imperial purple.

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Recipients of the Medal

The Humanitarian Service Medal honors personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces who have distinguished themselves by meritorious or "hands-on" direct participation in a significant military act or operation. The act or operation must be of a humanitarian nature or have rendered a service to mankind.

The recipient must have been on active duty at the time of the direct participation to be eligible for the medal. Service cadets in the U.S. Military Academy are included for eligibility. Members of the National Guard are eligible for the award as well if the use of active force has been approved for use in an act or operation.

Specifically excluded from eligibility are domestic disturbances involving law enforcement, equal rights to citizens, or protection of properties. Also specifically excluded are service members or elements remaining at a geographically separated location and those who did not make a direct contribution to influence the action.

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The Background of the Medal

The Humanitarian Service Medal was first established by Executive Order 11965, which was signed by President Gerald R. Ford on January 19, 1977. This order granted the award for taking part in a significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature at any point after April 1, 1975.

Department of Defense Directive 1348.25 established the policy and award criteria for the Humanitarian Service Medal on June 23, 1977. The design by Mr. Jay Morris of The Institute of Heraldry was submitted on April 18, 1977, and was approved by the Office of the Secretary of Defense on May 10, 1977.

Subsequent awards of the Humanitarian Service Medal are indicated by a bronze star worn on the ribbon. The designated operations for which the Humanitarian Service Medal may be awarded are listed in DOD Manual 1348.33 (M).

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The Symbolism of the Medal

The outstretched hand with the palm up is the international symbol of aid and assistance. The oak sprig stands for strength passed on through a selfless mission to aid mankind. The purple in the ribbon represents self-sacrifice, while white represents regeneration and blue stands for universal friendship. The two shades of blue are the same colors used in the flags of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.