Established by President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10977 of December 4, 1961, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) is awarded for members of the United States Armed Forces who, after July 1, 1958, take part in any of three types of operations: U.S. Military operations, U.S. operations that are in direct support of the United Nations, and U.S. operations for assistance for friendly foreign nations. Which U.S. military operations qualify for the AFEM, as well as the degree of participation required to make a Servicemember eligible for it, is the determined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The very first AFEM-designated operation took place between August 22, 1956 and June 1, 1963, in what is now referred to as the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. There are more than three dozen eligible AFEM-eligible operations: 15 are classified as U.S. Military operations, a half-dozen are U.S. military operations in direct support of the U.N., and 16 operations undertaken as assistance to friendly foreign nations. The list can be slightly confusing at first if it is not read in context of other available service and campaign awards. For example, the only actions in Vietnam that qualify for the AFEM are between 1 July 1958 and 3 July 1965 and two days in April, 1975 during the evacuation of Saigon; the period between those dates is covered by the Vietnam Service Medal.
Participation requirements for the AFEM are highly similar to those for Campaign medals. Servicemembers be members (“bona fide”) of a unit that participated in or directly supported the qualifying operation for a period of 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days (provided that the support required entry into the specified area of operations). These time constraints do not apply if the potential recipient was actually engaged in combat or in a duty that was equal in hazard to combat duty; was wounded or injured while participating in the operation and required medical evacuation from the area of eligibility; or accumulated the requisite service days as an aicrew member flying qualifying sorties (into, out of, within, or over the area of eligibility), with a single sortie counting as a full day of service (only sortie counts per day, however).
Although the AFEM is awarded only for operations for which no other Campaign medals have been approved, recipients can become eligible for awards for subsequent ongoing operations. Please refer to Department of Defense 1348.33, Volume 2: Manual of Military Decorations and Awards: DoD Service Awards – Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals for a detailed explanation regarding multiple campaign or expeditionary medal eligibility, including the wear of more than one such medal.