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What Is a Military Campaign?

Military campaigns are instrumental to the resolution of large-scale armed conflicts. When historians talk about World War II, they often use specific campaigns as reference points to break down the larger theater of war, but what is a military campaign exactly? 

A military campaign is a series of planned actions intended to achieve a specific objective. Military campaigns involve multiple operations or battles as part of a larger conflict. Military leaders develop campaign plans to carry out large-scale operations in a region. 

What Is the Difference Between a Campaign and a War?

War is described as armed conflict between different nations or states or groups within a nation or state. War is considered a state or period of fighting. A campaign is a series of planned actions during a war.

Military campaigns are designed to help alter the course of the war. The typical campaign includes many operations, battles, and skirmishes. Armed forces may also complete many campaigns during a lengthy war.

The US Army conducted 44 campaigns during World War II. Many of the Army’s campaigns involved joint operations with allied forces. The campaigns were often designed to push back the enemy.

Many military campaigns in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater during World War II were designed to force the Japanese to retreat from specific islands. For example, the Aleutian Islands Campaign ended when the Japanese withdrew from the islands. 

Military leaders plan campaigns with large-scale goals in mind. Each campaign may include one or more specific objectives, along with a series of planned actions for achieving the goals. A group of campaigns may be used to achieve larger objectives in a specific region, such as bringing about the end of a war.

What Do You Call a Military Mission?

A military mission is a type of military operation. Each mission has a specific objective and is typically orchestrated as part of a larger campaign. Military missions may be classified based on their objectives, such as:

  • Bombing missions
  • Hostage rescue operations
  • Intelligence operations
  • Combat missions
  • Search and destroy missions

Not all military missions are of a combat nature. For example, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) all participate in three types of military missions:

  • Observer missions
  • Peacekeeping missions
  • Peace enforcement missions

Observer missions involve unarmed military personnel. Unarmed soldiers monitor parties in a former conflict area to ensure the terms of a peace agreement or cease-fire are upheld. 

Peacekeeping missions involve deploying armed personnel to separate belligerent parties. The peacekeepers must remain neutral and restrained from using force. However, a peace enforcement mission may involve the use of force to bring an end to a conflict. 

What Is a Military Campaign Badge?

A military campaign badge is awarded to members of the armed forces that serve in a designated military operation during a campaign or specific armed conflict. 

For example, the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) is a campaign badge awarded to veterans who served during one of four specified periods of armed conflict:

  • The Korean War
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Gulf War
  • The Global War on Terrorism

The NDSM is the oldest service medal awarded by all branches of the US Armed Forces. It distinguishes veterans who served during a campaign from veterans who served during periods without armed conflicts.

Soldiers may also receive campaign ribbons for specific conflicts. Branches of the US Armed Forces have issued the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal to name a few. 

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What Is a Military Campaign Plan?

According to the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, a military campaign plan is a plan for a series of related military operations intended to accomplish a common objective within a given time and space.

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The following points summarize the overall purpose of military campaign planning:

  • Offers broad concepts for achieving strategic military objectives
  • Provides a schedule for making military decisions
  • Uses the enemy’s location as the center of gravity
  • Includes a series of related major operations
  • Designates command relationships and organizes subordinate forces
  • Synchronizes air, land, and sea military efforts

Military campaign plans are used to direct the efforts of military units. The plans convert strategic goals into operational directions. Military leaders develop campaign plans based on the Commander-in-Chief’s overall strategy, which often involves the removal of an enemy from a specified area.

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