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. Armed Forces. 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:
- U.S. military personal decorations
- U.S. military unit awards [1a][1b]
- U.S. non-military personal decorations (in order of receipt; if two or more from the same agency, the applicable agency precedence listing should be consulted)
- Presidential awards (i.e., Presidential Medal of Freedom, Presidential Citizen’s Medal)
- National Medals (i.e., National Security Medal, National Science Medal, Gold Lifesaving Medal, Silver Lifesaving Medal)
- DoD and JCS Distinguished Service awards
- Agency-specific Distinguished Service awards
- Agency-specific Superior Service awards
- Agency-specific Meritorious (or Exceptional) Service awards
- Agency-specific Commendation awards
- Agency-specific Achievement awards
- Civilian unit awards
- Civilian service awards
- U.S. non-military unit awards
- U.S. military campaign and service medals
- U.S. military service and training awards (ribbon-only awards)[3a]
- U.S. Merchant Marine awards and non-military service awards
- Foreign military personal decorations (in order of receipt; if two or more from the same country, the applicable country precedence listing should be consulted)
- Foreign military unit awards
- Non-U.S. service awards (e.g., United Nations, NATO, etc.)
- Foreign military service awards
- Marksmanship awards (Air Force,[3a] Navy & Coast Guard)[3b]
- Awards of U.S. military societies and other organizations6b
- State awards of the National Guard (Army & Air Force only)
Notes on branch-specific exceptions to the above:
- 1a In the Army, unit awards (any type) are worn as a separate grouping, on the right side of the uniform, with and without frames, are worn in the order of precedence from the wearer’s right to left. In the Navy, unit award ribbons are only worn on the right side of the uniform, when wearing full medals on the left side. Arrange ribbons in order of precedence in rows from top down, inboard to outboard; it should be noted that this reverses the order of ribbons (as compared to when placed inline with other awards on the left side). For U.S. Navy, the USPHS unit awards are considered (military) unit awards. However, if Navy personnel are also awarded USPHS personal decorations (e.g., USPHS Distinguished Service Medal), then the USPHS order of precedence would apply.
- 2 Some awards, despite being ribbon-only, are higher in precedence. The Navy & Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbons and the Coast Guard's Commandant's Letter of Commendation Ribbon are included with personal decorations, while two Air Force ribbon-only awards (the Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon & the Air Force Recognition Ribbon) and the Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon are considered in the same category as service medals.
- 3a Marksmanship Awards in the Air Force are considered training awards. 3b The Army and Marine Corps issue Marksmanship Qualification Badges instead of Marksmanship awards.
- 4 For Navy, Merchant Marine awards are considered U.S. non-military awards.
- 5 The obsolete Philippine Commonwealth service awards (Philippine Defense, Liberation, & Independence Medals), when still listed in the order of precedence, come before the United Nations medals (Army & Marine Corps) or before the Merchant Marine awards (Air Force). For Navy, medals and ribbons from military societies, such as the Army and Navy Union of the United States, worn in the order earned may be worn after marksmanship awards. Medals, ribbons and badges issued by these societies may be worn only while actually attending meetings or conventions or while participating in parades or other ceremonies as a member of these organizations.
- 6b For Army, no allowance of military society medals or ribbons is prescribed; however, badges are authorized. More specifically, badges of the Army and Navy Union of the United States of America are authorized for such active duty ANU members without further restriction. Badges of other civic and quasi-military societies of the United States, and international organizations of a military nature may also be worn with restrictions. These include badges of organizations originally composed of members who served in a U.S. force during the Revolutionary War; the War of 1812; the Mexican War; the Civil War; the Spanish–American War; the Philippine Insurrection; and the Chinese Relief Expedition of 1900. The badges are worn only while the wearer is actually attending meetings or functions of such organizations, or on occasions of ceremony. Personnel will not wear these badges to and from such meetings or events.
U.S. military, awards currently issued to service members
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 service member unless otherwise designated by name or notation.
Note: ^ The precedence of the Purple Heart was immediately before the Good Conduct Medals until changed to its current precedence in 1985.
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
- Awards and decorations of the National Guard
- Awards and decorations of the state defense forces
U.S. military, inactive and obsolete awards
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).
Discontinued or proposed
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.
| Distinguished Warfare Medal|
|Combat service decorations|
| Combat Recognition Ribbon|
|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 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. 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.
|Personal valor decorations|
| Four Chaplains' Medal|
|Personal commemorative decorations|
| Cardenas Medal of Honor|
| NC-4 Medal|
|Exploratory commemorative decorations|
| Peary Polar Expedition Medal|
| Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal|
| Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal|
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.
|Civil War 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. 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 accordance 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.
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.
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