Humanitarian Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal of the United States military.jpg
TypeService medal
Awarded formeritorious direct participation in a significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature.
Presented bythe Department of Defense[1]
EligibilityU.S. military personnel
EstablishedExecutive Order 11965, January 19, 1977
First awarded1977 (retroactive to April 1, 1975)
Humanitarian Service ribbon.svg
Next (higher)Armed Forces Service Medal[2]
Next (lower)Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal[2]
RelatedCivilian Award for Humanitarian Service

The Humanitarian Service Medal (HSM) is a military service medal of the United States Armed Forces which was created on January 19, 1977 by President Gerald Ford under Executive Order 11965. The medal may be awarded to any member of the United States military (including Reserve and National Guard members) who distinguishes himself or herself by meritorious participation in specified military acts or operations of a humanitarian nature.[3][4]


Julia V. Taft, the director of the Interagency Task Force (IATF) for Indochinese resettlement proposed the establishment of a Humanitarian Service Medal for U.S. military personnel and submitted the request to President Gerald R. Ford on November 10, 1975. The medal was to be awarded to those personnel that participated in the evacuation of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees after the Vietnam War. The proposal was met with dissent by Army Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore, who was concerned that the military was over-decorating its personnel with awards of participation rather than those of extraordinary achievement. He proposed a certificate of achievement as a more appropriate recognition. Army Lieutenant General John W. Vessey supported the creation of the medal as a precedent to recognize military participation in major humanitarian actions. Vessey's view prevailed and President Ford established the medal in 1977 as one of the last acts of his presidency.[5]


This medal is presented as an individual service medal. The activities in which the Humanitarian Service Medal may be authorized are designated by the United States Department of Defense. Such activities include natural disaster relief, evacuation of non-combatants from a hostile area, or humanitarian support to refugees. This medal may not be awarded for services rendered in domestic disturbances involving law enforcement, riots, or protection of property. This medal may also not be presented if either the Armed Forces Service Medal or Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal was presented for the same period of service.[6]

The Humanitarian Service Medal is retroactive to April 2, 1975.

The Department of the Army awards the Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service for similar service by Army civilian employees, as well as private U.S. and foreign citizens.[7]


Centered on the obverse of the medal within a circle, is a right hand pointing diagonally upward with open palm, (to symbolize a giving or helping hand). At the top of the reverse of the medal is the inscription, For Humanitarian Service in three lines. Below this is an oak branch, with three leaves and three acorns, and below this, around the outside edge of the medal, is the inscription, United States Armed Forces.[3]

Additional awards and devices

Subsequent awards of the Humanitarian Service Medal are denoted by wearing a bronze service star on the HSM suspension and service ribbon. A silver service star is worn in lieu of five bronze service stars.

Approved operations

Below is a list of approved operations in accordance with the Department of Defense.[8]

Approved operations for the Humanitarian Service Medal
Area or operation Start date End date Geographic area (note 1)
Hurricanes Eta and Iota 5 November 2020 5 December 2020 Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia, adjacent airspace and adjacent waters within 10 nautical miles
DoD Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Operations / Activities 31 January 2020 TBD Global


  1. ^ "Info" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-09-12. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  2. ^ a b Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "Department of Defense Manual Number 1348.33, Volume 2" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. p. 71. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 22, 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Institute of Heraldry Humanitarian Service Medal". Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  4. ^ Air Force Personal Center Humanitarian Service Medal Archived 2015-09-06 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Lipman, Jana K. (January 2015). ""A Presedent Worth Setting..." Military Humanitarianism: The U.S. Military and the 1975 Vietnamese Evacuation". The Journal of Military History. 79 (1): 151–152.
  6. ^ "Humanitarian Service Medal".
  7. ^ "Army Regulation 672–20 Incentive Awards" (PDF). Headquarters, Department of the Army. 29 January 1999. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 January 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  8. ^ "Humanitarian Service Medal - Approved Operations" (PDF). Retrieved 30 June 2021.