Service members who built hospitals, ran COVID-19 test sites or participated in other missions tied to the ongoing global pandemic are now authorized to receive military awards for those operations.
Defense Department officials this week approved the Armed Forces Service Medal and Humanitarian Service Medal for troops who took part in COVID-19-related missions, officials announced on Wednesday. The medals are approved for both active-duty and Reserve troops -- including members of the National Guard -- who were tasked with responding to the coronavirus crisis.
The eligibility window applies to anyone whose mission started on Jan. 31 or later. There is no set end date, as pandemic-related missions continue.
Troops won't be eligible to receive both awards for same activities, deployment or period of service, according to a memo outlining the rules signed by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan.
Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have been called on to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Some have served on hospital ships dispatched to cities hard hit by the virus early on, while others were activated on state orders to support drive-through COVID-19 test sites and help process unemployment claims.
National Guard officials said in April that it had nearly 45,000 soldiers operating in every state across the country.
Donovan wrote in his memo that each military service will approve awards for their branches. Those whose missions didn't fall under federal orders will be approved by the National Guard, the memo adds.
The Armed Forces Service Medal was created to recognize troops who participate in operations deemed to be a significant activity by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and who encounter no hostile or foreign armed opposition. The Humanitarian Service Medal recognizes those who participate in significant military operations of a humanitarian nature.
The Defense Department is waiving some of the criteria typically required to receive the Armed Forces Service Medal for COVID-19 missions.
The award will be authorized for those who completed 30 consecutive or nonconsecutive days of qualifying service, and troops don't need to have deployed to be eligible if they were reassigned from normal duties for coronavirus-related missions.
Anyone who contracted COVID-19 while assigned to one of those missions is also eligible for the award, even if they didn't meet the 30-day requirement.
"Due to the health risk posed by COVID-19, award of the Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized for one day of qualifying service if that service resulted in the member contracting the virus," Donavan's memo states.