A new medal for service members fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, authorized in an executive order by President Barack Obama, joins a growing list of decorations created for the wars and operations that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
To qualify for the award, a service member “must have been present in Iraq, Syria or the contiguous waters or airspace of either country, on or after June 15, 2014, for a period of 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days,” the Pentagon said. “Service members who were killed or were medically evacuated due to wounds or injuries immediately qualify for the award, as do members who engaged in combat.”
Before the announcement of the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, troops fighting in Iraq and Syria earned the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, which is not to be confused with the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Troops deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, but not stationed in Iraq or Syria, will earn the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.
The front side of the new medal features an image of a sword piercing a scorpion — probably a stand-in for the Islamic State. The display of such martial imagery is somewhat ironic, as the Pentagon has often gone out of its way to play down U.S. involvement in combat operations, insisting that U.S. forces are relegated to training and advising local allies and attacking targets from the air.
The reverse side of the medal has an eagle perched atop a banner that says, “For service.”
The hand clutching the sword appears to be wearing armor, and the sword itself is a variant of one commonly used in earlier U.S. military insignias. Known as the Sword of Liberation, the blade is prominently displayed in the emblem of U.S. Army Europe — although in the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, the sword is more of a dagger and the hilt is slightly altered.
Compare this to the last medal awarded for operations in Iraq: the Iraqi Campaign Medal. Authorized in 2004, the medal features an outline of Iraq on one side and two curved Iraqi scimitars on the other along with the words “For Service in Iraq.”
It is unclear why the hand is wearing what appears to be medieval armor. Imagery of that sort could be construed to imply religious zealotry — insignia and call signs that invoke armor-clad crusaders have embroiled the U.S. military in controversy before. Last year, two Army units were criticized for using crusader names, shields and imagery in their unit logos.
The Islamic State and other terrorist groups, however, have never shied away from calling their enemies in the West crusaders. The Islamic State said terrorist attacks in Paris in November were in response to a French “crusader campaign” in Iraq and Syria,” while Osama Bin Laden’s initial declaration of war against the United States also used the term.