What are US Military Ribbons?

Introduction

United States (US) military ribbons are presented to service personnel serving in a Department of Defence (DOD) component, through the DOD Military Decorations and Awards Programme.

The objective of the awards programme is to “provide tangible recognition for acts of valor, meritorious service or achievement under combat conditions, exceptional service or achievement, special skills or qualifications, and acts of heroism not involving actual combat.” (AR 600-8-22, 2019, p.3).

Military Ribbon Rack (1)

Categories of Individual Awards

Individual awards are grouped into the following categories:

  • Decorations.
  • Army Good Conduct Medal (AGCM).
  • Campaign, expeditionary, and service medals.
  • Service ribbons, badges, and tabs.
  • Certificates and letters.

What is a Military Ribbon?

A military ribbon – also known as a medal ribbon, service ribbon or ribbon bar – is a small ribbon, mounted on a small metal bar equipped with an attaching device, which is generally issued for wear in place of a medal when it is not appropriate to wear the actual medal.

Who can be Awarded Military Ribbons?

Military ribbons can be awarded to personnel from the US Army, US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard, US Space Force, and commissioned officers of the US Public Health Service (subject to approval).

Medal and Ribbon or Ribbon Only?

Medals, whether for valour of other achievements, are not worn on a daily basis. Ribbons are worn instead to display the individual’s achievements.

All medals come with a ribbon but not all ribbons come with a medal, for example:

  • The Medal of Honour, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, and Coast Guard Cross, all come with a ribbon.
  • The Army Sea Duty Ribbon, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, and Overseas Service Ribbon are awarded without an associated medal.

What is Order of Wearing?

Order of wearing defines which ribbons may be worn on which types of uniform in which positions under which circumstances.

For example:

· Miniature medals on dinner dress.

  • Full medals on parade dress.
  • Ribbons on dress shirts.
  • But no decorations on combat dress and working clothing.

Service medals and ribbons are generally worn in rows on the left side of the chest. In certain commemorative or memorial circumstances, a relative may wear the medals or ribbons of a dead relative on the right side of the chest. Medals and ribbons not specifically mentioned in the order of wear are also generally worn on the right side of the chest.

Sequencing of the ribbons depends on each country’s regulations. For example, in the US those with the highest status – typically awarded for heroism or distinguished service – are placed at the top of the display, while foreign decorations (when approved for wear) are last in the bottom rows.

When medals are worn (typically on the left side of a shirt or jacket), ribbons with no corresponding medals are worn on the right side.

When awarded, there is strict control on when, on which uniform, and in what order ribbons can be worn.

What is the US Convention of Wearing Ribbons?

Within the US system, the different federal uniformed services have different methods of wearing ribbon bars on uniforms, for example:

  • US Navy:
    • Ribbons are worn in rows of three with no staggering or spacing between rows (with the exception of the top row, which may be staggered to the wearer’s left if covered by a lapel).
    • For personnel who have three or more ribbons, they can elect to wear only their three highest-ranked ones instead of all of them and if their top three ribbons are obscured by a lapel, they can stagger the top row.
  • US Marine Corps:
    • Ribbons can be worn in rows of three or four, with optional staggering and can be spaced between rows.
  • US Army:
    • Ribbons can be worn staggered with spacing in between rows.

A ribbon display is known by a variety of nicknames, and can be referred to colloquially as a:

  • Ribbon rack or rack for short;
  • Fruit salad; or
  • Salad bar.

What is Phaleristics?

Did you know that the study, history and collection of ribbons, among other military decorations, is known as phaleristics (British English) or faleristics (US English)?

What about Commercial Vendors?

Except for the Medal of Honour, all other decorations, service medals, and ribbons can be purchased from commercial vendors, provided the original manufacturer of the item was issued a certificate of authority by The Institute of Heraldry in accordance with AR 672-8.

What is the Institute of Heraldry?

The Institute of Heraldry, Department of the Army, establishes regulations and standards governing control in the manufacture and quality assurance of US military medals and ribbons.

References

AR 600-8-22: Military Awards. 03 May 2019.

AR 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. 26 January 2021.

AR 672-8: Manufacture, Sale, Wear, and Quality Control of Heraldic Items. 05 April 1996.

DA Pam 670-1: Guide to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. 26 January 2021.

DOD Instruction 1348.33: DOD Military Decorations and Awards Programme. Change 5. 09 April 2021.

TIOH (The Institute of Heraldry). (2022) TIOH Certified Members. Available from World Wide Web: https://tioh.army.mil/Catalog/VendorList.aspx. [Accessed: 25 July, 2022].

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