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Commendation Medals
Five Commendation Medals are awarded: Joint Service, Air Force, Army, Navy-Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (shown L to R).
Awarded by United States Department of Defense
Type Military medal (Decoration)
Eligibility Military personnel only
Awarded for "distinguishing oneself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service."
Status Currently Awarded
Established Navy & Marine Corps - 1943
Coast Guard - 1943
Army - 1945
Air Force - 1958
Joint Service - 1963
Next (higher) Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal
Aerial Achievement Medal (USAF)
Next (lower) Achievement Medals

Joint Service Commendation ribbon Army Commendation Medal ribbon

Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon Air Force Commendation ribbon Coast Guard Commendation ribbon
Joint Service -- Army (top)
Navy & Marine Corps -- Air Force -- Coast Guard (bottom)
(Commendation Medal ribbons)

The Commendation Medal is a mid-level United States military decoration which is presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star Medal, a Commendation Medal with "V" Device or Combat "V" (Navy/Marine) is awarded; the "V" device may be authorized for wear on the service and suspension ribbon of the medal to denote valor. Each branch of the United States Armed Forces issues its own version of the Commendation Medal, with a fifth version existing for acts of joint military service performed under the Department of Defense.

The Commendation Medal was originally only a service ribbon and was first awarded by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. An Army Commendation Ribbon followed in 1945, and in 1949, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Commendation ribbons were renamed the "Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant." By 1960, the Commendation Ribbons had been authorized as full medals and were subsequently referred to as Commendation Medals.

Additional awards of the Army and Air Force Commendation Medals are denoted by bronze and silver oak leaf clusters. The Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Coast Guard Commendation Medal are authorized gold and silver 5/16 inch stars to denote additional awards. The Operational Distinguishing Device is authorized for wear on the Coast Guard Commendation Medal upon approval of the awarding authority. Order of Precedence is following the Bronze Star Medal but before the Prisoner of War Medal and all campaign medals. Each of the military services also awards separate Achievement Medals which are below the Commendation Medals in precedence.


The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States other than General Officers who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army after 6 December 1941, distinguished themselves by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service. The medal may be awarded to a member of the Armed Forces of a friendly foreign nation who, after 1 June 1962, distinguishes themselves by an act of heroism, extraordinary achievement, or significant meritorious service which has been of mutual benefit to the friendly nation[1] and the United States.[2]

Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard[]

After the First World War, the Department of the Navy authorized the Navy Commendation Star as an attachment to the World War I Victory Medal. The star was identical to the Silver Citation Star, but not comparable, as the later recognized heroic combat actions, while the Navy Commendation Star denoted those who had been cited for meritorious achievement by the Secretary of the Navy.

An independent Navy Commendation Ribbon was established in November 1943, designated as the Navy Commendation Medal in September 1960, and renamed the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in 1994, this decoration is awarded by operational commanders, requiring the signature of an admiral or general officer in the grade of O-7. This allows for interpretation of the criteria for which the medal may be awarded.

For instance, in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal is considered a somewhat high decoration reserved for Department Head level officers at the O-4 level, senior Navy CPOs and senior Marine Corps NCOs at the E-8 and E-9 level and, following a full career, as a retirement award. In contrast, the awarding of the Army Commendation Medal in the U.S. Army and the Air Force Commendation Medal in the U.S. Air Force is not limited to senior service members, and can be awarded to junior NCOs in the grade of E-6 and below and junior officers in the grade O-3 and below.

The U.S. Marine Corps has always been issued the Navy's commendation medal and there is not a separate commendation medal intended only for Marines. This lack of difference was recognized on 19 August 1994 when Secretary of the Navy John Howard Dalton changed the name of the Navy Commendation Medal to the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.[3]

The U.S. Coast Guard awards a separate Coast Guard Commendation Medal, with a ribbon similar in design to that of its Navy and Marine Corps counterpart. Initially established as the Coast Guard Commendation Ribbon in 1947, it was redesignated as the Coast Guard Commendation Medal in 1959. Criteria for its award has paralleled that of the Navy and Marine Corps.[4]

Air Force[]

The U.S. Air Force began issuing its own Air Force Commendation Medal in 1958 with additional awards denoted by oak leaf clusters. Prior to this time, USAF recipients received the Army Commendation Medal. It was not until 1996 that the "V" device was authorized on the Air Force Commendation Medal; prior to 1996, there was not a valor distinction in effect for the Air Force Commendation Medal. The Air Force Commendation Medal is worth three points under the Air Force promotion system.[5]

Joint Service[]

The last of the Commendation Medals is the Joint Service Commendation Medal, which was created in 1963. This award is intended for senior service on a joint military staff and is senior in precedence to service-specific Commendation Medals. As such, it is worn above the service Commendation Medals on a military uniform. As a joint award, multiple awards are denoted with an oak leaf cluster regardless of service.[6][7]

See also[]


Further reading[]

  • Foster, Frank C. (2002). A complete guide to all United States military medals, 1939 to present. Fountain Inn, SC: MOA Press. ISBN 1-884-45218-3. OCLC 54755134. 
  • Kerrigan, Evans E. (1971). American war medals and decorations. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-12101-0. OCLC 128058.  reprinted 1990, ISBN 0-792-45082-5 OCLC 21467942
  • Robles, Philip K. (1971). United States military medals and ribbons. Rutland, VT: C. E. Tuttle. ISBN 0-804-80048-0. OCLC 199721. 

External links[]

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