The Gulf War, Gulf War I, Persian Gulf War, Kuwait War, Iraq War—these are just a few of the titles given to the large-scale warfare precipitated by Saddam Hussein’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990. But when it comes to classifying the medals and ribbons to be awarded to the American Servicemembers who served in the two Operations—Desert Shield and Desert Storm—that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and ensured that Hussein would not attempt another act of aggression, a different term has been crafted: the Southwest Asia Conflict.

On March 12, 1991—less than two weeks after President George H. W. Bush declared a ceasefire—the Southwest Asia Service Medal (SWASM) was established through Executive Oder 12754 (it was later necessarily amended to extend the time of eligibility to the official end of Operation Desert Storm). In writing the eligibility requirements, two separate areas of action had to be taken into consideration: the land space (and contiguous airspace and waters) where combat troops were deployed, based, and fought, or Southwest Asia (SWA), as well as areas where reserves and support personnel were stationed.

“Southwest Asia and contiguous waters or airspace” is defined in AR 600-8-22 as the nautical areas that include the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, and part of the Arabian Sea (north of 10 degrees north latitude and west of 68 degrees east longitude); SWA land areas include the total land space of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates. The SWA airspace, of course, is the area above both land and sea areas. The period of eligibility for forces deployed in those areas is August 2, 1990 to November 30, 1995, the official close of Operation Desert Storm.

But Servicemembers of the Armed Forces of the United States who served under the command and control of U.S. Central Command (or directly supported military operations in the combat theater described above) are also eligible for the SWASM. Personnel who served in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan (and the airspace and territorial waters of those nations) are also eligible for the medal for the services they performed between January 17, 1991 to Desert Storm’s end date of November 30. 1995.

Specific performance requirements are straightforward. Potential recipients must have been attached to or regularly served for at least one day with an organization taking part in ground or shore-based military operations; attached or regularly served at least one day on a U.S. naval vessel that directly supported military operations; or actually participated as a crewmember in at least one aerial flight whose support was direct support of military operations in the SWA described above. For Servicemembers on temporary duty—and the massive buildup of forces for the two operations meant there were many thousands in this category—must have logged a minimum of 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days to become eligible for the medal. (Note: these time limits are waived if temporary-duty personnel participated in combat operations.)

A bronze service star is worn on either the suspension ribbon or service ribbon for each designated campaign in which the SWASM recipient took part. The three campaigns that can be represented with a bronze service start are Defense of Saudi Arabia )2 August 1990 to 16 January 1991), Liberation and Defense of Kuwait (17 January 1991 to 11 April 1991), and
Southwest Asia Cease-Fire 12 (April 1991 to 30 November 1995).

The SWASM may awarded posthumously to any person who lost his or her life as a direct result of participating in either Operation Desert Shield or Desert Storm, with no regard to length of service.

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