Thousands of American troops sent to the US-Mexico border as part of the Trump administration’s effort to handle the rising number of migrants crossing into the US since April 2018 will be awarded the Armed Forces Service Medal, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.
The medal honors service members who participate in a “military operation that is deemed to be a significant activity” and “encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile action.”
Created in 1996, the medal has been previously approved for a number of missions, including Operation Jump Start, in which National Guard forces deployed to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California from May 2006 to July 2008 to assist the Department of Homeland Security with securing the Southwest US border, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell.
“The area of eligibility is US land area 100 nautical miles from the international border within Texas (and the city of San Antonio), New Mexico, Arizona and California; and the adjacent US waters out to 24 nautical miles,” Mitchell said.
Military.com was first to report that troops who have participated in the border mission will receive the medal.
President Donald Trump first announced plans to send active-duty service members to the US-Mexico border in April 2018 and has cast the deployment as a necessary intervention to stop potentially dangerous individuals from entering the country.
When US troops were first deployed to the border to support Customs and Border Protection agents, Pentagon officials stressed that military personnel would not be in “direct contact” with migrants.
However, CNN reported last month that troops had begun carrying out “welfare checks” on detained migrants, marking a departure from their original mission and raising questions about the nature of the military’s role as the Trump administration continues to face criticism about the conditions of the facilities migrants are being housed in.
There are currently about 2,600 National Guard members supporting border security as part of an operation named “Guardian Support,” which was launched at the start of the Trump administration.
This is in addition to some 2,900 active-duty troops assigned to border missions.