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Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal (United States)
Awarded by United States Armed Forces
Type Military medal (Decoration)
Eligibility Military Personnel Only
Awarded for Outstanding meritorious achievement or service to the United States
Status Currently Awarded
Established 1969
Next (higher) Purple Heart
Equivalent Meritorious Service Medals:
Defense Meritorious Service Medal (joint service), Branch Service
Next (lower) Air Medal
Meritorious Service ribbon
Meritorious Service Medal ribbon

The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) is a military award presented to members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguished themselves by outstanding meritorious achievement or service to the United States subsequent to January 16, 1969. The MSM was previously awarded as a decoration for achievement during peacetime; effective 11 September 2001, this decoration may also be bestowed in lieu of the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement in a designated combat theater.[1] Normally, the acts or services rendered must be comparable to that required for the Legion of Merit but in a duty of lesser, though considerable, responsibility.

A higher award and decoration, known as the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, is intended for similar services performed under joint service with the United States Department of Defense.

In the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) are typically field grade officers in pay grades O-4 through O-6 (major, lieutenant colonel, colonel), senior chief warrant officers (W-3 to W-5) in the case of the Army, and senior non-commissioned officers (E-7 to E-9) in both the Army and the Air Force. Award of the MSM to company grade officers, junior warrant officers/chief warrant officers (Army only) and junior NCOs is rare and typically by exception.

The U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard ascribe to a slightly different philosophy in awarding the MSM, typically reserving it for senior Naval and Coast Guard officers in pay grades O-5 and O-6 (commander and captain) and Marine Corps field grade officers in pay grades O-5 and O-6 (lieutenant colonel and colonel), with the first award of the MSM typically occurring after a successful commanding officer assignment at the O-5 level. Award of the MSM to USN, USMC and USCG officers in pay grade O-4 and below and chief warrant officers in pay grade W-3 and below is typically by exception.

Enlisted award of the MSM in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard is likewise typically limited to pay grades E-8 (e.g., USN/USCG senior chief petty officer and USMC master sergeant or first sergeant) and E-9 (e.g., USN/USCG master chief petty officer and USMC sergeant major or master gunnery sergeant), while award of the MSM to pay grade E-7 (e.g., USN/USCG chief petty officer and USMC gunnery sergeant) and below is very rare and by exception. In the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, the awarding authority for the MSM must be a Flag Officer or General Officer holding the pay grade of O-7 or above.

Foreign military personnel in the ranks of NATO OF-5 (US O-6 equivalent) and below and individuals who have displayed a level of service that warrants an award of such magnitude may also be eligible to be awarded the MSM. To receive this medal the individual must exhibit exceptionally meritorious service at that level of responsibility.[1]


At the Tri-Department Awards Conference (February 5, 1968), there was a discussion on the need for a third meritorious award to provide appropriate recognition for non-combat achievement or service comparable to the Bronze Star Medal for combat achievement or service. It was felt that the Legion of Merit's prestige was slipping because it was being used with increasing frequency to reward service below the Legion of Merit's intended standard, but higher than that required for the Commendation Medal.[2]

An ad hoc committee was formed by the Secretary of Defense (M&RA) to select a name. On November 8, 1968, the committee unanimously approved the name "Meritorious Service Medal". President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Meritorious Service Medal per United States Executive order 11448, dated January 16, 1969. The Executive Order was amended by President Ronald Reagan per United States Executive order 12312, dated July 2, 1981, to authorize award to members of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations.

The medal was designed by Mr. Jay Morris of the Institute of Heraldry, and the design was approved by the committee on March 20, 1969. The ribbon design purposely follows the colors used for the Legion of Merit to reflect the parallel between the two medals. The eagle, symbol of the United States, stands on laurel branches denoting achievement. The star is used to represent the military service and the rays emanating therefrom denote the constant efforts of individuals to achieve through excellent and meritorious service.

The Meritorious Service Medal is a bronze medal, 1.5 inches in diameter overall, consisting of six rays issuant from the upper three points of a five-pointed star with beveled edges and containing two smaller stars defined by incised outlines; in front of the lower part of the star an eagle with wings upraised standing upon two upward curving branches of laurel tied with a ribbon between the feet of the eagle. The reverse has the encircled inscriptions "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and "MERITORIOUS SERVICE". The suspension ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/8 inch Crimson 67112; 1/4 inch White 67101; center 5/8 inch Crimson; 1/4 inch White; and 1/8 inch Crimson.[3]

Additional awards of the Meritorious Service Medal are denoted by bronze oak leaf clusters in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force (with a silver oak leaf cluster denoting six awards) and gold 5/16 inch stars in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard (with a 5/16 inch silver star denoting six awards). These devices are also authorized for wear on the suspension and service ribbon of the medal. The U.S. Coast Guard also authorizes an Operational Distinguishing Device for the medal.

Notable recipients[]

Country Rank Name Other achievements Service Notable Awards
United States Admiral Dennis C. Blair USN
Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda USN
Major General Patrick Henry Brady USA Medal of Honor
Colonel Scott Brown Former U.S. Senator Army National Guard
Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. USA
First Lieutenant Russell Adam Burnham USA
Commander Frank Castellano USN
General Wesley Clark USA
Lieutenant Colonel Chuck DeVore USA
Staff Sergeant Thomas Andrews Drake USAF
Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth U.S. Representative US Army Reserve, Army National Guard
Captain Tulsi Gabbard U.S. Representative Army National Guard
Lieutenant General Terry Gabreski USAF
Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton USAF
Rear Admiral Larry L. Hereth USCG
Colonel Robert L. Howard USA Medal of Honor
Lieutenant Commander Zuhdi Jasser USN
Chief Master Sergeant Norman Marous USAF
Major General Wendy M. Masiello USAF
Captain John McCain U.S. Senator USN
Major Richard J. Meadows USA
Rear Admiral John Poindexter USN
Major General L. Scott Rice USAF
General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. USA
Vice Admiral Joe Sestak Former U.S. Representative USN
Rear Admiral Jacob L. Shuford USN
Rear Admiral Patrick M. Stillman USCG
Rear Admiral Joseph C. Strasser USN
Captain Edward D. Thalmann USN
Corporal Pat Tillman USA
Colonel James S. Voss USA
Admiral Patrick M. Walsh USN
Colonel Douglas H. Wheelock USA
Lieutenant General Frances C. Wilson USMC
Lieutenant General Janet C. Wolfenbarger USAF
Vice Admiral James A. Zimble USN
Australia Lieutenant General Brian Power AO, CSC Australian Army
France Divisional General Vincent Desportes French Army
United Kingdom General Sir Nick Parker KCB, CBE British Army
United States Corporal / Specialist Robert Edward Snow Received 2 in 8 years of Honorable Service USARNG
United States Corporal / Specialist Robert Anthony Rosado Sole Intelligence Analyst for Battalion USARNG

See also[]


External links[]

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