The Vietnam Service Medal is presented to any service member who served on temporary duty for more than 30 consecutive days, or 60 non-consecutive days, attached to or regularly serving for one, or more, days with an organization participating in or directly supporting ground (military) operations or attached to or regularly serving for one, or more, days aboard a naval vessel directly supporting military operations in the Republic of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos within the defined combat zone (DoD 1348 C18.104.22.168.5. revised September 1996) between the dates of 15 November 1961 and 28 March 1973, and from 29 April 1975 to 30 April 1975. For the United States Navy, vessels operating in Vietnamese waters qualify for the Vietnam Service Medal provided that the naval vessel was engaged in direct support of Vietnam combat operations. The United States Air Force also grants the Vietnam Service Medal exclusively to flight crews that flew missions over Vietnamese air space, even if the home base of the flight mission was hundreds of miles away requiring in flight refueling.
The Vietnam Service Medal is retroactive to 1961 and supersedes and replaces the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) which was issued for Vietnam service prior to 1965. Defense Department regulations do not permit the simultaneous presentation of both the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, for the same period of service in Vietnam, however the AFEM may be exchanged for the VSM upon request from a service member. Veterans of the Vietnam War may exchange the AFEM for the VSM and have military records updated to reflect the difference by contacting the National Personnel Records Center, which is the current agency that provides record corrections reflecting an AFEM upgrade to the Vietnam Service Medal.
The Republic of Vietnam also issued its own campaign medal for the Vietnam War, known as the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. This is a separate foreign award from the Vietnam Service Medal which was accepted by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Military in accordance with DoD 1348 C7. Six months of service in support of military operations in the Republic of Vietnam was the normal requirement for the award.
The Vietnam Service Medal is issued as a bronze medal, 1-1/4 inches in diameter. The obverse side consists of an oriental dragon behind a grove of bamboo trees, representing the subversive nature of the conflict, are above the inscription "REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM SERVICE". On the reverse, a crossbow, the ancient weapon of Vietnam, and the torch of the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of the United States devotion to liberty and freedom, are above the arched inscription "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". The ribbon is 1-3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: three narrow (1/16 inch) strips of red with wider (5/32 inch) stripes of yellow in the center, flanked by even wider (5/16 inch) stripes of yellow on each side and narrow 1/8-inch stripes of primitive green on the ends. The yellow with red stripes suggests the flag of the Republic of Vietnam The green alludes to the jungle in Vietnam.
The following devices are authorized for the medal:
Service stars for those service members participating in one or more campaigns, a 3/16-inch Service star (formerly a "campaign star" or "engagement star") is authorized to be attached to the Vietnam Service Medal suspension and service ribbon to indicate participation in each campaign. Silver campaign stars are issued in lieu of five bronze campaign stars.
Arrowhead device authorized for campaign participation which involved an aerial or amphibious assault.
The Department of Defense established thirty military campaigns during the Vietnam War which covered all service branches. In 2010, the Department of Defense consolidated the original list of campaigns from the original 30 to a list of 18 by combining the Air Force campaign list with the other armed services. The United States Army, and Coast Guard recognize seventeen 3/16" service stars (also known as campaign stars; 3 silver and 2 bronze stars) on the Vietnam Service campaign streamer. Additionally, the United States Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force recognize Operation Frequent Wind (29–30 April 1975).
Department of Defense consolidated campaign periods
DoD Consolidated Campaign Periods for All Services