When you read in SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H, Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual, that the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal was established in 1939 through a directive by the Secretary of the Navy, keep in mind that there was no such organization as the “Selected Marine Corps Reserve” at that time.
The Marine Corps Reserve was born out of the National Defense Act of 1916, which authorized the Navy Department to create a reserve for the Corps. In its original incarnation, this reserve consisted of the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve A, Marine Corps Reserve B, and a Volunteer Marine Reserve. After demobilization following World War II, Congress reactivated the Reserve in 1925, dividing it into The Fleet Marine Corps Reserve (company-sized units) and the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. Five years later, these two organizations were merged, and in the process members were stripped of drill pay and were required to subsidize any expenses associated with training.
With the passage of the Naval Reserve Act of 1938, the Reserve was again reorganized, this time into three groups: the Fleet Marine Reserve, Organized Marine Corps Reserve, and Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. When originally issued, the award could be issued retroactively back to 1925, which is why you will see references that the Medal was “created” in 1925 and called the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve Medal—it was the only Reserve force eligible for this type of award at the time. It was also the name specified to be used on the Medal, but even here confusion reigned—some early versions read “Fleet Marine Corps Reserve” and others said just “Marine Corps Reserve.”
At some point subsequent to 1939, the name of the medal was officially changed to Organized Marine Corps Reserve Medal, but nailing down the precise date this happened is nearly impossible. But it is beyond debate that in 1984 the Medal was given its current name of Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal (SMCRM).
Regardless of its name at the time, one of the requirements to earn the SMCRM was four years of service—at least for the seventy-year period from 1925 to 1995. Beginning January 1, 1996, was when the regulations were altered to specify that the SMCRM would be awarded to (1) members of the Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) who (2) have fulfilled their designated service requirements within any three-year period of service in the Organized Marine Corps Reserve. SMCR units are consist of drilling Reservists under Marine Forces Reserve (MARFORRES) belonging to the 4th Marine Division, the 4th Marine Logistics Group, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and Force-level units of MARFORRES.
The Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal is essentially a version of a Good Conduct Medal for Reservists. Eligibility specifications can be somewhat confusing, particularly if not explained in detail. To learn more about the requirements for the SMCRM, please refer to the aforementioned SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H.