Awards Now Authorized for Troops Who Assisted in These Natural Disasters

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A Texas National Guardsman carries a resident from her flooded home following Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (National Guard/Lt. Zachary West )
A Texas National Guardsman carries a resident from her flooded home following Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (National Guard/Lt. Zachary West )

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has signed off on authorization of a new medal for U.S. service members who deployed for and otherwise supported several recent natural disasters.

According to a Marine Corps administrative message, the Humanitarian Service Medal -- recognizing meritorious participation in humanitarian actions -- is authorized for troops who participated in disaster relief and assistance for Typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu, which struck Guam, the Philippines and surrounding islands in late 2018.

The Navy's Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, deployed to assist with disaster relief after Typhoon Mangkhut, which killed more than 100 and stretched as far west as southern China and Hong Kong. Super Typhoon Yutu, which ripped through Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, also prompted a response from the 31st MEU, with some 800 troops from across the services ultimately supporting disaster relief.

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To be eligible for the medal in relation to the typhoons, personnel must have directly participated in relief efforts, and have been physically present in Guam or the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and provided direct humanitarian assistance between the dates of Sept. 11, 2018 and Feb. 2, 2019, according to the message.

The medal is also authorized for troops who supported assistance for Hurricane Harvey, which struck southeastern Texas, and for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the Caribbean, all in late 2017.

For Hurricane Harvey, eligible personnel must have directly participated in humanitarian assistance and hurricane relief and have been physically present in Brazoria, Calhoun, Jackson, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria or Matagorda counties and Louisiana's Cameron Parish to provide direct humanitarian assistance between the dates of Aug. 23, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2018.

Harvey brought massive flooding to parts of Texas and Louisiana and prompted a military response of historic proportions. Response efforts included the U.S. Coast Guard; Army National Guard units from five states; Air Force pararescue teams; a Navy amphibious ready group with Marines aboard; and Marine Corps Reserve units.

To earn the medal for support in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, troops must have provided direct disaster relief and have been physically present in the State of Florida or the Caribbean Islands "and adjacent waters, from Barbados Northward to Anguilla, and then westward to the Florida Straits," between Sept. 8, 2017 and Nov. 15, 2017, according to the message.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused catastrophic regional damage, leveling paths through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the wake of the storms, the U.S. military organized Joint Task Force Leeward Islands for disaster response. At peak strength, according to the Defense Department, the task force included "more than 300 Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, as well as 10 Army and Marine helicopters, four U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, the U.S. Navy's amphibious ship USS Wasp, the expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead, and support from Navy P8 Poseidon and P3 Orion aerial reconnaissance aircraft."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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