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 Metal 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 ("O" 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 Joint Service Commendation Medal was authorized on 25 June 1963 and is awarded in the name of the Secretary of Defense to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who, after 1 January 1963, distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement or service.
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.
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 December 6, 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 June 1, 1962, distinguishes themselves by an act of heroism, extraordinary achievement, or significant meritorious service which has been of mutual benefit to the friendly nation and the United States.
The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to American and foreign military personnel in the grade of O-6 (Colonel in the U.S. Army) and below who have performed noteworthy service in any capacity with the United States Army. Qualifying service for the award of the medal can be for distinctive meritorious achievement and service, acts of courage involving no voluntary risk of life, or sustained meritorious performance of duty. Approval of the award must be made by an officer in the grade of Colonel (O-6) or higher.
The medallion of the Army Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagon, 1 3⁄8 inches wide. On the medallion is an American bald eagle with wings spread horizontally, grasping in its talons three crossed arrows. On its breast is a shield paly of thirteen pieces and a chief. The reverse bears a panel for naming between the words FOR MILITARY above and MERIT below, all placed above a laurel sprig. The ribbon is 1 3⁄8 inches wide primarily of myrtle green. It is edged in white and in the center are five thin white stripes spaced equally apart.
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. For USAF enlisted personnel, the Air Force Commendation Medal is worth three points under the Air Force enlisted promotion system.
The Air Force Commendation Medal is awarded to American and foreign military personnel in the grade of O-6 and below who have performed noteworthy service in any capacity with the United States Air Force. Qualifying service for the award of the medal can be for distinctive meritorious achievement and service, acts of courage involving no voluntary risk of life, or sustained meritorious performance of duty. Approval of the award must be made by an officer in the grade of Colonel or higher.
The Air Force Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagonal medallion. On the medallion is a shield surmounted by an eagle superimposed over clouds. On the shield bears a pair of flyer's wings and a vertical baton with an eagle's claw at either end; behind the shield are eight lightning bolts. The design on the shield is derived from the Seal of the Department of the Air Force. The ribbon of the Air Force Commendation Medal is golden yellow with blue edges. In the center are three bands of blue, the outer stripes are thin with the center stripe being wider.
After the First World War, the Department of the Navy authorized the Navy Commendation Star, a ribbon device to be placed on the World War I Victory Medal. The 3⁄16 inch silver star was identical to the Army Citation Star, but not comparable, as the later recognized "gallantry in action", while the Navy Commendation Star denoted those who had been cited and commended for performance of duty by the Secretary of the Navy.
An independent Navy Commendation Ribbon was established in November 1943. On 22 March 1950 a metal pendant (of the same design as the pendant of the Army Commendation Medal) was authorized and the Commendation Ribbon was renamed the Navy Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant. This award was re-designated as the Navy Commendation Medal in September 1960, and renamed the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in 1994. This decoration was previously awarded only by flag rank operational commanders, requiring the signature of an admiral or general officer in the grade of O-7, allowing interpretation of the criteria for which the medal may be awarded. Authority to award this decoration was later expanded to captains and colonels in the grade of O-6 currently holding operational command as a commodore, carrier air wing commander or commanding officer.
In contrast to the Army and the Air Force, in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal has historically considered its commendation medal to be a higher level and less frequently awarded decoration. Outside of those instances where it has been awarded for combat action with a Combat "V", it has typically been reserved for Department Head level officers at the O-4 level, senior Navy Chief Petty Officers (CPO) and senior Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCO) at the E-8 and E-9 level as an "end of tour" award in a given command/organization/unit, and, following a full career, as a retirement award for enlisted personnel between pay grades E-6 and E-9. For more junior personnel, it has occasionally been awarded as an "impact award" for a significant contribution of service, to include those instances of combat service where it has included the Combat "V". 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 (with some recipients as low as E-3) and junior officers in the grade O-3 and below. However, since the early 2000s, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal has been observed as being increasingly awarded to junior USN officers in pay grade O-3 as an "end of tour" award in a given command/unit/organization in a manner similar to that employed by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force since the late 1960s.
Recipient members of the U.S. Marine Corps have 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 August 19, 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.
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.
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