With the establishment of the Combat Action Badge (CAB) on May 2, 2005, the United States Army made it possible to officially recognize Soldiers who had actively engaged in combat with enemy forces but who were not assigned to combat units at the time. Obviously, the Iraq War was not the first conflict in which U.S. Soldiers not assigned to combatant units had fought with the enemy. But the nature of the conflict, with the enemy’s heavy reliance on guerilla-style hit-and-run tactics and acts of terrorism, led to an extremely large number of Soldiers not assigned to a combatant role actively engaging the enemy in offensive and defensive operations.

For this reason, eligibility is not related in any way to a candidate’s MOS or their branch of service. To qualify, Soldiers must be carrying out their assigned duties in an area for which hostile-fire or imminent-danger pay is authorized; be personally present and actively engaged with the enemy; and performing satisfactorily based upon and in accordance with the rules of engagement.

Although Soldiers from units which are eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) or Combat Medical Badge (CMB) can also earn a CAB, they can’t earn it while serving in those units. The example in AR 600-8-22 makes the distinction clear: Soldiers who have earned MOS 11B, Infantryman, can earn the CAB while assigned to Corps staff and meeting the other requirement for the Badge, but they cannot earn it while assigned to an Infantry Battalion because they would receive the CIB instead.

Although the CAB can be retroactively awarded, it is authorized only for qualifying actions within the start and end dates of the following operations:
Enduring Freedom
18 September 2001
31 December 2014
Iraqi Freedom
19 March 2003
31 December 2014
New Dawn
1 September 2010
31 December 2011
Inherent Resolve
15 June 2014
Freedom's Sentinel
1 January 2015

Soldiers can be awarded only one CAB for each of these qualifying periods, but they are eligible for the award for their actions in different periods. Each additional award beyond the first will be denoted by superimposing a star or stars centered between the points of the oak wreath.
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