The Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal is a military award of the United States Marine Corps which was established on 8 May 1919. Originally known as the Marine Corps Expeditionary Ribbon, a full-sized medal was authorized on 1 March 1921 by Presidential Order of Warren G. Harding. The Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal is therefore one of the oldest medals of the United States military which is still issued to active duty personnel.
To be awarded the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, personnel must have engaged in a landing on foreign territory, participated in combat operations against an opposing force, or must have participated in a designated operation for which no other service medal is authorized. After 1961, some commands permitted eligible personnel to choose between the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, depending on the nature of the operation in question.
The medal was designed by Walker Hancock and feature's a 1920s era marine in full combat gear, advancing, bayonet at the ready, with the word "Expeditions". On the reverse of both the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal and Navy Expeditionary Medal, in the center of the bronze medallion an eagle is shown alight upon an anchor; the eagle is facing to the left and the flukes of the anchor are to the right. The eagle is grasping sprigs of laurel, which extend beyond the anchor in both directions. Above the eagle are the words UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS or UNITED STATES NAVY presented as an arch. Above the laurel are the words FOR SERVICE presented horizontally. The eagle is the American bald eagle and represents the United States, the anchor alludes to Marine Corps or Navy service, and the laurel is symbolic of victory and achievement.
Under the “deemed to merit special recognition and for which service no campaign medal has been awarded“ clause, both the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal (MCEM) and Navy Expeditionary Medal (NEM) have been awarded for classified operations with proper adjudication by the Secretary of the Navy Special Awards Board. The MCEM and NEM "can be authorized and awarded to individuals or units who have participated in classified operations not necessarily in connection with larger operations in which the public is aware.” The SECNAV INSTRUCTION 1650.1H - NAVY AND MARINE CORPS AWARDS MANUAL details the process via the Special Awards Board for issuing classified awards. Anecdotal reports from former service members cite a wide variety of classified operations for which the MCEM and NEM have reportedly been awarded, ranging from Marine Corps units clandestinely deployed in Africa, to helicopter gun-crews or force protection units assisting SEAL-DEVGRU or DeltaForce teams world-wide, and even classified submarine movements during the Cold War. In cases where the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal or Navy Expeditionary Medal has been awarded for classified operations, the name of the operation is omitted from public documentation including from the individual service member’s DD214 personnel record with only the name of the award and issue date provided.
Both the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal (MCEM) and Navy Expeditionary Medal (NEM) have been fraudulently worn by military service members convicted under the UCMJ and civilians fraudulently claiming to have been awarded the MCEM or NEM along with other medals such as the Purple Heart (see Stolen Valor Act for applicable criminal legislation). It has been widely reported that L. Ron Hubbard fraudulently claimed being awarded the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. The issuance of military awards is available via a public records search and from lists of authorized recipients available online. In recent years, a number of television news crews have confronted people fraudulently wearing military awards and “Stolen Valor” websites publicly shame those who fraudulently wear or claim military awards and will notify federal law enforcement when they believe the activity rises to the level of a crime such as fraud for profit-or-gain, falsely receiving veterans services, falsifying a federal document such as the DD214, or violation of the Stolen Valor Act.