The Military Service Cross, also known as (or having equivalents in) the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross depending on the branch of service, is the second highest military decoration after the Medal of Honor.
Military Service Crosses are awarded to “any person” serving with the Navy, Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps, and may be awarded to foreign troops who have earned the honor. Military Service Crosses may be awarded posthumously.
Specifically, the Military Service Cross may be awarded for “extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of the Medal of Honor” against an enemy of the United States and other qualifying criteria we’ll explore later in this article.
What The Distinguished Service Cross Is Not
The Distinguished Service Cross should not be confused with lower medals with similar names such as Military Department Distinguished Service Medals, which honor “exceptionally meritorious service to the United States in a duty of great responsibility.”
These medals are important and deserve all the respect they are due, but the Distinguished Service Cross takes precedent above Distinguished Service Medals.
Criteria For The Distinguished Service Cross
As mentioned above, the requirements to be awarded a Cross begin with the exceptional meritorious service condition, and also the following for exceptional service:
- While engaged in military operations against an “opposing foreign force,” OR
- While serving with “friendly foreign forces” against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a “belligerent party.”
- The required heroism, while of a lesser degree than that required for award of the Medal of Honor, must nevertheless have been performed with marked distinction.
The Cross is awarded for “singular acts” spanning a short amount of time such as a specific day or multiple days in a combat situation.
Intended To Honor Specific Acts
This medal is not intended to recognize a range of actions over a long span of time that accumulate into justification for a military award. Instead the “heroic actions of each Military Service Cross nominee” has their actions for a specific time period evaluated “against Medal of Honor award criteria” to see whether the Medal of Honor is justified instead.
The Defense Department has a stated goal for recommendations for valor awards. These should be initiated “within 45 days of the act justifying award” according to DoD sources.
Furthermore, the stated goal of the DoD is to make determinations on all such award submissions within 12 months of the start of the process.
A Brief History Of The Distinguished Service Cross
The Cross has been awarded to individuals taking part in major conflicts since the earliest days of America including the Spanish-American War, military campaigns in the Philippines,World War One, and many others. In the 21st century the Cross has been awarded in anti-terrorism campaigns all over the world.
The earliest version of the Cross or its individual service equivalents such as the Navy Cross or Air Force Cross, is said to have appeared in the 1800s.
A New Medal Needed To Honor Troops For Valor
The Cross was deemed necessary to honor American troops in a manner similar to their European counterparts. The Medal of Honor was sufficient for recognizing acts of great bravery that warrants being recommended for it. But what about “lesser” acts of valor equally worthy of recognition?
Enter the Distinguished Service Cross and its service-specific counterparts, made to honor troops for specific acts that do not qualify for the Medal Of Honor.
A Request For The President
The Distinguished Service Cross was created in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson after prompting from the Commander-In-Chief of Expeditionary Forces in France, General John J. Pershing.
The General made a formal request in writing which was submitted to the Secretary Of War and forwarded to President Wilson. Congress established the award with Title 10 of the United States Code, Section 3742, and was added to U.S. military regulations via War Department General Order No. 6, 1918.
Creating The Distinguished Service Cross
The design of the Cross came from within. Artist J. Andre Smith is credited with the design as part of his work in the U.S. Army Reserve. The first Distinguished Service Crosses were manufactured at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
The initial run of these medals would not be repeated. Design changes were ordered and roughly 100 Crosses that had been printed from the originals were issued with a caveat that they be replaced with the upgraded design once available.
Distinguished Service Crosses have been awarded since World War One. In the 21st century a military member who earns the Cross also receives a 10% increase in military retirement pay when retiring with more than 20 years of military service. The Cross and its service-specific equivalents are among the highest honors a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine can earn.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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