Awards and decorations of the United States Armed Forces

Service ribbons, ribbon devices, and badge awards displayed on a U.S. Navy service uniform

The United States Armed Forces awards and decorations are primarily the medals, service ribbons, and specific badges which recognize military service and personal accomplishments while a member of the U.S. military. Such awards are a means to outwardly display the highlights of a service member's career.

Order of precedence

While each service has its own order of precedence, the following general rules typically apply to all services:

  1. U.S. military personal decorations
  2. U.S. military unit awards [1]
  3. U.S. non-military personal decorations (in order of receipt; if from the same agency, the applicable agency precedence listing should be consulted)
  4. U.S. non-military unit awards[1]
  5. U.S. military campaign and service medals
  6. U.S. military service and training awards (ribbon-only awards)[2][3a]
  7. U.S. Merchant Marine awards and non-military service awards
  8. Foreign military personal decorations
  9. Foreign military unit awards[1]
  10. International decorations & service medals (e.g., United Nations, NATO, etc.)
  11. Foreign military service awards[4]
  12. Marksmanship awards (Air Force[3a], Navy & Coast Guard)[3b]
  13. State awards of the National Guard (Army & Air Force only)

Notes on branch-specific exceptions to the above:

U.S. military, current

Order of precedence

Notes: Precedence of particular awards will vary slightly among the different branches of service. All awards and decorations may be awarded to any servicemember unless otherwise designated by name or notation.[2]

Ribbon/award name[3]
Personal decorations
  Medal of Honor
Awarded for "gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty"
Service cross medals. Awarded for "extraordinary heroism"

  Distinguished Service Cross (Army)

  Navy Cross

  Air Force Cross

  Coast Guard Cross

Distinguished service medals

  Defense Distinguished Service Medal

  Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal

  Distinguished Service Medal (U.S. Army)

  Navy Distinguished Service Medal

  Air Force Distinguished Service Medal

  Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal

  Silver Star Awarded for "Gallantry in action"
  Defense Superior Service Medal
  Legion of Merit
  Distinguished Flying Cross
Medals for non-combat heroism

  Soldier's Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Medal

  Airman's Medal

  Coast Guard Medal

  Bronze Star Medal Awarded for heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone
  Purple Heart Awarded for wounds suffered in combatPH
Meritorious service medals

  Defense Meritorious Service Medal

  Meritorious Service Medal

  Air Medal
  Aerial Achievement Medal
Commendation medals

  Joint Service Commendation Medal

  Army Commendation Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal

  Air Force Commendation Medal

  Coast Guard Commendation Medal

Achievement medals

  Joint Service Achievement Medal

  Army Achievement Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal

  Air Force Achievement Medal

  Coast Guard Achievement Medal

  Commandant's Letter of Commendation
Combat Action Ribbons

  Navy Combat Action Ribbon

  Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon

  Air Force Combat Action Medal

Unit awards
Presidential Unit Citations

  Army and Air Force Presidential Unit Citation

  Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation

  Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation

  Joint Meritorious Unit Award

  Army Valorous Unit Award

  Navy Unit Commendation

  Air Force Gallant Unit Citation

  Coast Guard Unit Commendation

Meritorious Unit Commendations

  Army Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Air Force Meritorious Unit Award

  Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Army Superior Unit Award

  Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

  Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation

Efficiency Awards

  Navy "E" Ribbon

  Air Force Organizational Excellence Award

  Coast Guard "E" Ribbon

Service awards
  Prisoner of War Medal
Good conduct medals

  Army Good Conduct Medal

  Navy Good Conduct Medal

  Air Force Good Conduct Medal

  Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal

  Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal

  Combat Readiness Medal (Air Force)
  Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon

  Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon

  Air Force Recognition Ribbon
Reserve medals

  Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal

  Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal

  Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal

  Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal

  Coast Guard Reserve Good Conduct Medal

  Armed Forces Reserve Medal

Expeditionary medals

  Navy Expeditionary Medal

  Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal

Occupation medals

  Army of Occupation Medal

  Navy Occupation Service Medal

Continued on right column
Ribbon/award name[3]
Campaign and service medals (cont.)
General service medals
  National Defense Service Medal
  Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
  Korea Defense Service Medal
  Armed Forces Service Medal
  Humanitarian Service Medal
  Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
Special service medals
  Antarctica Service Medal
  Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal
  Air and Space Campaign Medal
  Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal
Campaign medals
  Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  Vietnam Service Medal
  Southwest Asia Service Medal
  Kosovo Campaign Medal
  Afghanistan Campaign Medal
  Iraq Campaign Medal
  Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal
  Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Service and training awards
  Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

  Coast Guard Sea Service Ribbon

  Army Sea Duty Ribbon

  Naval Reserve Sea Service Ribbon

  Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon

  Navy Arctic Service Ribbon

  Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon

  Coast Guard Overseas Service Ribbon

  Air Force Overseas Short Tour Service Ribbon

  Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon

  Army Overseas Service Ribbon

  Army Reserve Overseas Training Ribbon

  Coast Guard Restricted Duty Ribbon

  Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon

  Air Force Special Duty Ribbon

  Air Force Longevity Service Award

Recruiting service ribbons

  Navy Recruiting Service Ribbon

  Air Force Recruiter Ribbon No longer awarded

  Marine Corps Recruiting Ribbon

  Coast Guard Recruiting Service Ribbon

Training service ribbons

  Air Force Military Training Instructor Ribbon No longer awarded

  Navy Recruit Training Service Ribbon

  Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon

  Marine Corps Combat Instructor Ribbon

Guard ribbons

  Navy Ceremonial Guard Ribbon

  Marine Corps Security Guard Ribbon

Professional development Ribbons

  Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon

  Air Force NCO PME Graduate Ribbon

  Air Force Basic Military Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

  Coast Guard Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

  Navy Basic Military Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

  Army Service Ribbon

  Air Force Training Ribbon

Marksmanship awards [4][5][6]
  Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Distinguished Marksman Award

  Coast Guard Silver Rifle Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Coast Guard Bronze Rifle Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Navy Expert Rifleman Medal

  Coast Guard Expert Rifleman Medal

  Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Coast Guard Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon


  Coast Guard Distinguished Pistol Shot Award

  Coast Guard Silver Pistol Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Coast Guard Bronze Pistol Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal

  Coast Guard Expert Pistol Shot Medal

  Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Coast Guard Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon

Note: ^ The precedence of the Purple Heart was immediately before the Good Conduct Medals until changed to its current precedence in 1985.

Military departments

To denote additional achievements or multiple awards of the same decoration, the United States military maintains a number of award devices which are pinned to service ribbons and medals.

National Guard and State defense forces

U.S. Military, obsolete

U.S. military personnel having received these awards have either been discharged or retired for a substantial length of time and/or are deceased (with the exception of the Fleet Marine Force Ribbon and the military awards of the DoT).

Ribbon/award name
Personal decorations
  Certificate of Merit Medal
  Marine Corps Brevet Medal
  Specially Meritorious Service Medal
  Reserve Special Commendation Ribbon
  Army Wound Ribbon
Department of Transportation military awards
  Transportation Distinguished Service Medal
  Secretary of Transportation Outstanding Unit Award
  Coast Guard Bicentennial Unit Commendation
19th and early 20th century Commemorative Medals
  West Indies Naval Campaign Medal (Sampson Medal)
  Battle of Manila Bay Medal (Dewey Medal)
  United States Antarctic Expedition Medal
19th and early 20th century Campaign Medals
  Civil War Campaign Medal
  Indian Campaign Medal
  China Campaign Medal (Army)
  China Relief Expedition Medal (Navy)
Spanish–American War campaign and occupation medals
  Spanish Campaign Medal
  West Indies Campaign Medal
  Spanish War Service Medal
  Army of Cuban Occupation Medal
  Army of Cuban Pacification Medal
  Army of Puerto Rican Occupation Medal
Philippine–American War campaign medals
  Philippine Campaign Medal
  Philippine Congressional Medal
Ribbon/award name
Navy & Marine Corps expedition medals
  Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1912)
  Dominican Campaign Medal (1916)
  Haitian Campaign Medal (1915 & 1920-1921)
  Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1926-1930)
  Yangtze Service Medal
World War I and Pre-World War I service medals
  Mexican Service Medal (1911-1917)
  Mexican Border Service Medal
  World War I Victory Medal
  Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
World War II and Pre-World War II service medals
  China Service Medal
  American Defense Service Medal
  Women's Army Corps Service Medal
  American Campaign Medal
  European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
  World War II Victory Medal
Post World War II service medals
  Medal for Humane Action
  Korean Service Medal
Service and training awards
  Naval Reserve Medal
  Fleet Marine Force Ribbon
  Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Marksman and Pistol Shot Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Marksman Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Pistol Shot Ribbon


The following decorations were designed for issuance with an approved medal, but were either never officially approved for presentation or were discontinued before a first award could be made.

Ribbon/award name
Personal decorations
  Distinguished Warfare Medal
Combat service decorations
  Combat Recognition Ribbon
Ribbon/award name
General service award
  Cold War Victory Medal

Single Service awards

Single service awards were official military decorations created as one time awards to recognize a single event. The first such single service award was issued during the Spanish–American War by the Revenue Cutter Service to honor the heroic actions of the vessel USRC Hudson during the Battle of Cárdenas. The last single service award was issued in 1960 when Congress authorized the awarding of the Four Chaplains' Medal recognizing the Four Chaplains who died together during World War II.[7] There have been no single service awards issued since by the U.S. military, mainly due to the decline and complications of awarding commemorative service medals.

Ribbon/award name
Personal valor decorations
  Four Chaplains' Medal
Personal commemorative decorations
  Cardenas Medal of Honor
  NC-4 Medal
Ribbon/award name
Exploratory commemorative decorations
  Peary Polar Expedition Medal
  Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal
  Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal

Unofficial decorations

Unofficial decorations are those military awards created and issued by local commanders. In most cases, unofficial awards were designed to commemorate a specific battle or engagement of a commander's unit. The most well known unofficial awards were issued during the American Civil War.

Ribbon/award name
Civil War decorations
Kearny Cross
Kearny Medal
Butler Medal
Gillmore Medal
Ribbon/award name
Research decorations
  Walter Reed Medal

After the Civil War, stricter military regulations prohibited local commanders from issuing awards and the practice had fallen into disuse by the 20th century. Even so, the Department of Defense has stated that large numbers of unofficial medals were privately issued to members of the Armed Forces of the United States for many years after the Civil War, mostly to commemorate specific battles, events, or as private veteran memorabilia.[8] One of the more well known is the Walter Reed Medal (recognized today as a Congressional Gold Medal), awarded for exploratory scientific achievement in the field of malaria treatment. While presented as a gold medallion, members of the military were reported to wear a red ribbon on their uniforms to denote the decoration.

Foreign and international awards

Foreign and international decorations are authorized for wear on United States military uniforms by the Department of Defense in accordence with established regulations for the receipt of such awards as outlined by the State Department. In the case of foreign decorations, the awards may be divided into senior service decorations (awarded only to high ranking U.S. officers), heroic decorations for valor, and foreign service decorations.

There are hundreds of foreign and international awards which have been approved for issuance to United States military personnel since World War I, the following being among the more common.

Ribbon/award name
World War I
  French Legion of Honor
  British Order of the Bath
  French Military Medal
  French Croix de guerre
  Belgian Croix de guerre
  Czechoslovak War Cross (1918)
Caribbean & Central America (1920s & 1930s)
  Order of Abdon Calderón (Ecuador)
  Military Merit Medal (Haiti)
  Medal of Merit (Nicaragua)
World War II (Europe)
  French Croix de guerre
  Belgian Croix de guerre
  Luxembourg War Cross
  Czechoslovak War Cross (1945)
  Luxembourg War Cross (Unit Citation)
World War II (Pacific)
  Philippine Defense Medal
  Philippine Liberation Medal
  Philippine Independence Medal
  Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
World War II (Senior Orders)
  Order of Adolphe of Nassau (Luxembourg)
  Order of the Aztec Eagle (Mexico)
  Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom)
  Order of the Crown (Belgium)
  Order of Leopold (Belgium)
  Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands)
  Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco)
  Order of Pao Ting (China)
  Order of Virtuti Militari (Poland)
  Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
  Order of the White Eagle (Yugoslavia)
  Order of William (Netherlands)
Korean War - Republic of Korea (South Korea) / United Nations
  Republic of Korea War Service Medal
  United Nations Service Medal
  Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Ribbon/award name
Vietnam War - Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
  RVN Army Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Navy Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Air Force Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Military Merit Medal
  RVN Gallantry Cross (with Palm)
  RVN Air Gallantry Cross
  RVN Navy Gallantry Cross
  RVN Armed Forces Honor Medal
  RVN Civil Actions Medal (1st class)
  RVN Staff Service Medal
  RVN Special Service Medal
  RVN Training Service Medal
  RVN Presidential Unit Citation
  RVN Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm and frame
  RVN Civil Actions Medal Unit Citation with palm and frame (1st class)
  RVN Campaign Medal with 1960- device
Persian Gulf War
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
International Awards (20th Century)
  United Nations Medal
  Multinational Force and Observers Medal
  Inter-American Defense Board Medal
  NATO Medal (Yugoslavia)
  NATO Medal (Kosovo)
  NATO Medal (Macedonia)
Senior Military Awards (21st Century)
  Aeronautical Merit Cross (Peru)
  Cross of Honor (Germany)
  Khalifiyyeh Order of Bahrain
  Military Merit Order (United Arab Emirates)
  Order of the Crown of Thailand
  Order of the Date Palm (Iraq)
  Order of May (Argentina)
  Order of Merit (Germany)
  Order of Merit of the Italian Republic
  Order of National Security Merit (Korea)
  Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)
  Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)

During the First and Second World Wars, the Croix de Guerre medals of France and Belgium, as well as the French Military Medal and Luxembourg War Cross, were further issued as unit citation cords, known as Fourragère. Service members could receive both the individual award and the unit cord; in the case of the later, the unit citation could either be worn temporarily while a member of the unit or permanently if the service member was present during the actual battle which warranted the unit citation. A further unit citation cord of the Order of William of the Netherlands was also issued during World War II, and was far more commonly known as the "Orange Lanyard".

As of 2002, South Korea has again issued the Korean Presidential Unit Citation to certain units of the United States Marine Corps, thus placing this previously obsolete foreign award back on the active order of precedence for U.S. decorations. Apart from this one decoration, most 21st century foreign military awards are reserved for only the most senior flag and general officers and then only presented as "end of tour" decorations upon transfer from a major command.

See also

To display devices on Wikipedia pages, use Template:Ribbon devices.


  1. Marine uniform regulations section 5103, subsection 12, page 5-9
  2. "NUMBER 1348.33, Volume 3" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. United States Department of Defense. 31 October 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  3. 1 2 Retrieved 24 February 2008.
  4. OPNAVINST 3591.1F, SMALL ARMS TRAINING AND QUALIFICATION, Chief of Naval Operations, dated 12 August 2009, last accessed 5 May 2013
  5. COMDTINST M1650.25D, Medals and Awards Manual, U.S. Coast Guard, dated May 2008, last accessed 5 May 2013
  6. U.S. Coast Guard Uniform Regulations, dated March 2012, last accessed 5 May 2013
  7. The Institute of Heraldry – Army Chaplain Medal of Valor
  8. Price, James S. (2011). The Battle of New Market Heights: freedom Will Be Theirs by the Sword. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-60949-038-6.

Further reading

External links

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