What Do the Army Ribbons Mean?

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Army ribbons signify awards, decorations and medals a soldier has received during his time in service. Army ribbons are worn on dress uniforms in lieu of actual medals; that affords everyone a quick snapshot of the soldier's accomplishments. Each Army ribbon has a different meaning. Common ribbons, like the Army Service ribbon, are given to every soldier. Others, like the Medal of Honor ribbon, may only be worn by soldiers who have official Department of the Army orders authorizing them to wear it because they have received that award. The wear of Army ribbons is governed by Army Regulation 670-1.

Medals

  • Each Army medal a soldier has earned has a corresponding ribbon. The Good Conduct Medal, for example, is given to a soldier who has served for a continuous three-year period without getting into any trouble. When he receives his Good Conduct Medal, he is authorized to add a burgundy-and-white striped ribbon on his dress uniform. Other medals include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Medal of Honor. Soldiers must have Department of the Army orders authorizing the wear of each of these ribbons in order to display them on a uniform.

Campaigns

  • There are several active military campaigns that qualify soldiers for a campaign medal. Soldiers who have served in Iraq are entitled to wear the ribbon denoting receipt of an Iraqi Campaign ribbon, which is a red, green, white, black and tan striped ribbon. Those who have served in Afghanistan are authorized to wear the Afghanistan Campaign ribbon. Soldiers who have served in both campaigns may wear both ribbons. Other campaigns include Vietnam, Kosovo, Bosnia and any other wartime service the Army has created a ribbon to reflect.

Appurtenances

  • Appurtenances are small additions to Army ribbons. Soldiers add appurtenances to signify multiple awards in one area. For example, a soldier who has received three Army Commendation Medals doesn't wear three Army Commendation ribbons -- he adds two bronze oak leaf clusters to the center of his ribbon. The first award is denoted by the ribbon itself; each additional award is shown by an appurtenance. There are different appurtenances for different ribbons, as well. For example, a soldier with four separate overseas tours wears an Overseas Service ribbon with a tiny number "4" affixed to the center.

Order of Precedence

  • According to AR 670-1, the governing regulation for the wear of Army ribbons, ribbons must be worn in order of precedence from the top down and left to right. This means the more important ribbons must be displayed on top left of a ribbon rack and the least important ribbons belong on the bottom right. Generally, the more difficult it is to earn a medal, commendation or ribbon, the higher it belongs on a ribbon rack. A soldier who has earned the Medal of Honor, the highest award possible in the Army, will wear that in the uppermost left corner of his ribbon rack; the Army Service ribbon belongs to the right and far below the Medal of Honor.

More Information

  • If you have questions about individual ribbons on a soldier's uniform, ask him what each represents. Some soldiers enjoy explaining their ribbons and the reasons they were awarded them. You can also browse the Army's official website through the Institute of Heraldry to determine what each ribbon means. Click the text below each ribbon for a full description of the award, how and why it is awarded, and which soldiers are authorized to wear it.

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