What Are Military Ribbons?

Military ribbons and medals are given to service members to distinguish particular accomplishments throughout their time serving our country, but one can’t hope to understand military ribbons or medals without first looking into how they came to be.

The very first military medal dates back to 1776 when it was given to George Washington for forcing the British out of Boston. These early medals were only meant for presentation and were not to be worn in a uniform on a daily basis. It wasn’t until around 1908 that the tradition of wearing ribbons to signify the ownership of medals began. Around this time, military branches began to create awards specific to their branch, with most ribbons having a medal counterpart. 

How Does a Soldier Get a Medal/Ribbon?

Military medals and ribbons may be awarded for several different reasons. Some indicate participation in certain campaigns, like the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon Patch.  Some signify specific accomplishments or feats, like the Defense Superior Service Medal. Whatever the reason, it is always a great honor for a soldier to receive a medal.

Prestigious Ribbons and Medals of the U.S. Military

It’s worth noting that the military branches have a predetermined order in which ribbons should be worn and when which must be taken into account before a soldier places their medals/ribbons on their uniform.

Medal of Honor

Out of all the medals to be awarded, the Medal of Honor is the most prestigious. There are three different versions, including one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one that applies to the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. This medal is not awarded lightly and is presented by the President of the United States to an individual who has chosen to risk their lives to go above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in conflict. At the time of writing, there have been 3,515 Medal of Honor recipients in the U.S.

Prestigious Ribbons and Medals of the U.S. Military

Cross Medals and Ribbons

Cross ribbons and medals are awarded only when the service member has completed actions while engaged in combat or service that display extraordinary heroism. These types of medals are only earned if the action did not warrant the Medal of Honor. This makes all of these ribbons the second-highest honor to be awarded within the individual branches. In the Army, this award is called the Distinguished Service Cross. The Navy Cross is awarded to members of the Navy, which may also include members of the Marines and members of the Coast Guard when operating under the Navy’s authority, and the Air Force Cross is awarded to members of the Air Force.

Silver Star

The Silver Star is the third most prestigious military award a soldier can be presented with. It is awarded for heroic actions that do not merit the Medal of Honor or one of the cross medals. The Silver Star can be awarded to any member of the United States Armed Forces.

Unique Army Ribbons

One notable Army ribbon and medal is the Soldier’s Medal. This award, unlike the ones mentioned before, is specifically for heroic acts committed while not involved in conflict with an enemy. By contrast, the Army Overseas Ribbon can be awarded to an Army member who has completed a standard tour of duty overseas.

Unique Navy Ribbons

The Navy Ceremonial Duty Ribbon is an interestingly specific award for Navy members who successfully complete a tour with the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard or USS Constitution on May 1, 2001, or after. The Navy Arctic Service Ribbon is also specialized, as it is only awarded to members of the Navy (or Marine Corps) for service performed above the Arctic Circle.

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Unique Air Force Ribbons

The Aerial Achievement Ribbon and Medal is fascinating because it’s awarded to men and women who distinguish themselves by sustained meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight that goes above and beyond the normal expectation for airmen. The Air and Space Longevity Service Award is for those that have completed at least four years of active service. Both of these can be awarded to members of the Air Force or Space Force.

Unique Marine Corps Ribbons

A Marine may work their way up to becoming a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, at which point they will receive the Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon. Another notable marine ribbon is the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, which is awarded to a Marine who has engaged in landing on foreign ground, engaged in combat against opposing forces, or participated in an operation for which no other medal is authorized. 

Unique Coast Guard Ribbons

An unusual ribbon specific to Coast Guard members is the Restricted Duty Ribbon. This ribbon is awarded to a service member who completed a permanent tour (or a tour with no specified end date or further instructions) at specific shore units where dependent family members are prohibited. 

National Guard Ribbons

The National Guard spans all 50 states, so it’s no surprise that each state has its own set of ribbons and awards to give to Guard members. This includes ribbons and medals for Commendation, Homeland Defense, Community Service, Reenlistment and so many more. 

Reserve Ribbons

The Reserve Good Conduct Medal includes five military conduct awards. These awards are given to members of each branch who are now in the Reserve or National Guard and have completed three to four years of adequate duty with no disciplinary action on record. 

Foreign Service Military Ribbons

Hundreds of foreign service awards have come to exist since World War I. They can be generally categorized into three categories: senior service decorations, decorations given for heroic valor, and general foreign service.

These foreign service ribbons can be awarded to any member of any branch of the military. Some of our most popular foreign military service ribbons include:

Prestigious Ribbons and Medals of the U.S. Military

 At Popular Patch, while we do not sell medals or ribbons of honor, we do offer an extensive range of campaign patches for service members all over the world. Explore our website for all your military service patches. 


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