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Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Distinguished Service Medal.png
Obverse of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Awarded by the Secretary of Defense
Type Military decoration
Eligibility United States military personnel
Awarded for Exceptionally distinguished performance of duty contributing to National security or defense of the United States.
Status Currently awarded
Clasps Oak leaf clusters for subsequent awards
Established July 9, 1970
First awarded General Earle Wheeler (1970)
Next (higher) Army - Distinguished Service Cross
Navy & Marine Corps - Navy Cross
Air Force - Air Force Cross
Coast Guard - Coast Guard Cross
Next (lower) Distinguished Service Medal: Defense, Army, Navy-Marine,
Air Force, Coast Guard
Defense Distinguished Service ribbon.svg
Defense Distinguished Service Medal ribbon

The Defense Distinguished Service Medal is a United States military award which is presented for exceptionally distinguished performance of duty contributing to National security or defense of the United States. The medal was created on July 9, 1970 by President Richard Nixon in United States Executive order 11545.[1]


It is the United States's highest non-combat related military award and it is the highest joint service decoration. The Defense Distinguished Service Medal is awarded only while assigned to a joint activity. Normally, such responsibilities deserving of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal are held by the most senior officers such as the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs and Vice Chiefs of the Services, and Commanders and Deputy Commanders of the Combatant Commands, the Director of the Joint Staff etc., whose duties bring them frequently into direct contact with the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and other senior government officials. In addition, the medal may also be awarded to other service members whose direct and individual contributions to National security or National defense are recognized as being so exceptional in scope and value as to be equivalent to contributions normally associated with positions encompassing broader responsibilities.[2]

This decoration takes precedence over the Distinguished Service Medals of the separate services and is not to be awarded to any individual for a period of service for which an Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal is awarded.


The medal is gold in color and on the obverse it features a medium blue enameled pentagon (point up). Superimposed on this is an American bald eagle with wings outspread facing left grasping three crossed arrows in its talons and on its breast is a shield of the United States. The pentagon and eagle are enclosed within a gold pieced circle consisting, in the upper half of 13 five-pointed stars and in the lower half, a wreath of laurel on the left and olive on the right. At the top is a suspender of five graduated gold rays. The reverse of the medal has the inscription "For Distinguished Service" at the top in raised letters, and within the pentagon the inscription "From The Secretary of Defense To," all in raised letters. Additional awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal are denoted by oak leaf clusters.

Notable recipients


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