By establishing the Antarctica Service Medal (ASM) in 1960, Congress made three former medals obsolete. While all three had been created to honor the exploits of the famed Polar explorer Richard Byrd, who flew over both the North and South Poles, only the first two carried his name (the first, the Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal, was awarded to Byrd in gold, while his officers and junior personnel received silver and bronze versions). The third medal, the United States Antarctic Expedition Medal, was for the 1939 expedition led by Richard Byrd, the first that enjoyed the official support of the United States government.

Interestingly, in setting the eligibility requirements for the Antarctica Service Medal, Byrd’s influence can still be seen. In Volume II of the Department of Defense’s Manual of Military Decorations and Awards: DoD Service Awards – Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals, the initial eligibility date for the award is specified as “starting with the U.S. Navy Operation High Jump beginning January 1, 1946.” Operation High Jump is the name of the fourth Antarctic expedition organized by Byrd.

Eligibility for the ASM depends upon a combination of the nominee’s status—Servicember of the Armed Forces of the United States, civilian citizen, national, resident alien, or foreign national—and the actions performed. For instance, all but foreign nationals can qualify for the ASM by being a member of a direct support or exploratory operation in Antarctica. If the duty involved participating in flight as a member of an aircraft’s crew flying to or from the Antarctic continent in support of operations in Antarctica, on the other hand, the candidate must be a Servicemember of the Armed Forces of the United States.

The only instance in which a citizen of a foreign nation (who does not meet any of the other qualifications listed above) may receive the ASM is by being invited to participate in a U.S. Antarctica expedition by a participating U.S. Agency. In those cases, the Secretary of the Department under whose purview the expedition falls will make the award, but only if the commander of the military support force affirms the foreign national rendered exceptional and outstanding service while sharing the hardships, burdens, and hazards involved in the expedition.

Beginning in June, 1973, the minimum time requirement spent with an expedition are 30 days at sea or shore at a position south of latitude 60 degrees south (days are not required to be consecutive); any day spent at a station on the Antarctic continent counts as two days in determining eligibility. For members of flight crews, the minimum is 15 missions, with any single flight in or out of the Antarctic area in a 24-hour period providing logistics support counting as a mission.

ASM recipients who have spent the winter months (March to October) in Antarctica may wear a clasp with the inscription “Wintered Over.” The first such clasp is bronze, the second gold, and silver is used for personnel who have wintered over three or more times.

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