How to Earn Navy Ribbons & Medals


Navy ribbons and medals are earned in different ways. Medals are awarded to servicemembers who take significant action in unforeseen circumstances, whereas ribbons are given to those who provide dedicated service in the situations in which they are placed. For example, the Navy Overseas Service Ribbon is presented to servicemembers who spend 12 months at a shore-based station overseas. Commanding officers present all active-duty members and drilling reservists with their first award upon completion of basic training.

Remain Loyal

  • Servicemembers aren't automatically eligible to receive every award recognized by the Navy because most have specific qualifications. For example, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps members don't qualify for awards during periods they spend as full-time college students. Some decorations are awarded decades after the time period they represent, thus taking servicemembers' entire record into account. For example, the Department of Defense reported in 2000 that Navy Corps veterans who served in ground or surface combat between December 6, 1941 and March 1,1961 were officially eligible to receive the Combat Action Ribbon.

Keep Practicing

  • Aside from location-based ribbons, such as the Arctic Service Ribbon, some may require practice to earn. For example, the Rifle or Pistol Marksman Ribbon is awarded to candidates who score at expert, marksman or sharpshooter levels in pre-determined courses of fire. Candidates may also be awarded ribbons for other achievements, such as demonstrating an impressive military aptitude, exceeding basic physical fitness requirements and recruiting individuals to join the Navy.

Be Brave

  • Some of the most commonly recognized decorations are given to servicemembers who perform outstanding heroic actions. For example, the Naval History & Heritage Command reports that the Medal of Honor is presented to individuals who risk their lives going above and beyond the call of duty. Notable acts of bravery and honor that posed slightly less risk are distinguished by medals such as the Bronze or Silver Star. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the oldest military medal is the Purple Heart, which is awarded to servicemembers who are wounded or injured in battle.

Stand Out

  • According to U.S. Navy Awards, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal is the highest peacetime defense award, which is presented to individuals who provide superior service in direct contribution to national defense and security operations. Servicemembers can also earn decorations for showing sympathy and perseverance in certain situations. For example, the Humanitarian Service Medal recognizes compassionate actions like assisting in national and international disasters or evacuating people from locations battling hostile forces.

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