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  • Army Ribbons 101
  • Author avatar
    Steven Alvarez

Army Ribbons 101

U.S. Army Ribbons
For those of us who have been around the block a time or two in the U.S. Army, it is almost second nature when we discuss U.S. Army ribbons. From memory, most Army veterans with more than a couple of years in uniform can recite the criteria to earn a U.S. Army ribbon and also explain the order of precedence for wear of U.S. Army ribbons.

But if you’re a new soldier or maybe you’re someone who is trying to learn about U.S. Army ribbons to help a family member acquire awards they never received, or you’re putting together a military shadow box for a veteran or a family member, navigating all of the colors, criteria and campaigns can be a conundrum.

Maybe this can break it down for you and help you understand U.S. Army ribbons.

Army Service Ribbon/Army Rainbow Ribbon
The ASR, as it is known in the Army’s vernacular, is the most basic Army ribbon a member of the U.S. Army can earn. According to the Federal Register, the Army Service Ribbon was established by the Secretary of the Army in 1981. It is awarded to members of the U.S. Army for completion of initial entry training. That means that enlisted soldiers earn the Army Service Ribbon after completing their MOS (military occupation specialty) course. Officers earn the Army Service Ribbon after completing their basic/orientation or higher-level course. For both officer and enlisted who are assigned an MOS based on civilian or other service acquired skills, the Army Service Ribbon is awarded after four months of honorable service.

The Army Service Ribbon can be awarded retroactively for training that occurred prior to August 1981 provided personnel had an active Army status during the award period. In addition, all members of the Active Army, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve in an active reserve status are eligible for the award. The Army Service Ribbon is awarded only once, even if an individual completes both enlisted and officer training. Lastly, the Army Service Ribbon can be awarded posthumously before training is completed or requisite time in service if the death is ruled in the line of duty.

The Army Service Ribbon is multicolored representing all of the occupational specialties in the U.S. Army. Because of its rainbow-like colors, the ribbon has earned the nickname Army Rainbow Ribbon. But to avoid confusion, don’t refer to the ASR as the Army Rainbow Ribbon in official channels because you might just come across an NCO who doesn’t think that the word rainbows has a place in the U.S. Army. Just remember that unofficially, the Army Service Ribbon is also called the Army Rainbow Ribbon, but you won’t find any pots of gold when you earn it, and remember that Army Rainbow Ribbon is just a nickname used within the ranks.

Army Good Conduct Ribbon
The Army Good Conduct Medal (AGCM) and the Army Good Conduct Ribbon are one in the same. When a soldier receives the medal, they receive it in a box that has a full-sized Army Good Conduct Medal along with an Army Good Conduct Ribbon. The Army Good Conduct Ribbon represents the Army Good Conduct Medal when a soldier wears a ribbon rack on their Class A or Class B uniform. The Army Good Conduct Ribbon represents the AGCM.

According to U.S. Army Human Resources Command, the AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon was established in June 1941 and it is awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active federal military service. It is awarded on a selective basis to each soldier who distinguishes him- or herself from among his or her fellow soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity throughout a specified period of continuous enlisted active federal military service. There is no right or entitlement to the medal until the immediate commander has approved the award and the award has been announced in permanent orders. That’s key because a lot of soldiers believe that it is an automatic award, but you have to keep your nose clean.

The first award of the AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon may be approved for more than one year, but less than three years of active federal military service. Subsequent awards must meet the three years of continuous active federal military service rule.

The following are eligible for the AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon: Active component enlisted soldiers, Active Guard Reserve (AGR) enlisted personnel serving on extended periods of active duty (other than for training) under Titles 10 and 32 U.S. Code are eligible for award of the AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon for qualifying service beginning on or after Sept. 1, 1982, provided no period of the service has been duplicated by the same period of service for which the soldier has been awarded the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal. The AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon qualification period may commence anytime during the three years immediately preceding the September 1982 effective date provided no portion of service for the AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon is included in a period of service for which the ARCAM was awarded.

The AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon is retroactive for eligible Army of the United States (AUS) enlisted personnel and other Army enlisted personnel as may be directed by the Secretary of the Army, as well as Ready Reserve enlisted personnel ordered to active duty under Title 10 U.S. Code.

The AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon receives higher precedence in the order of wear than the Army Service Ribbon because it is an individual military medal that is earned through honorable service. The AGCM/Army Good Conduct Ribbon also has promotion points value.

Army Overseas Service Ribbon
The Army Overseas Service Ribbon is one of the more confusing Army ribbon criteria. In the past, deployments to combat zones did not qualify personnel for the Army Overseas Service Ribbon, but the rules have changed and some stipulations have been rescinded. Here’s what U.S. Army Human Resources Command says about the Army Overseas Service Ribbon.

The Army Overseas Service Ribbon was established by the Secretary of the Army on April 10, 1981. Effective Aug. 1, 1981, the Army Overseas Service Ribbon is awarded to all members of the Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve in an active reserve status for successful completion of overseas tours. The ribbon may be awarded retroactively to personnel who were credited with a normal overseas tour completion before Aug. 1, 1981, provided they had an Active Army status on or after Aug. 1, 1981.

In order to receive the Army Overseas Service Ribbon, soldiers must be credited with a normal overseas tour completion. Soldiers who have overseas service with another branch of service (Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps) must be credited with normal overseas tour completion by that service to qualify for the award of the Army Overseas Service Ribbon. Additionally, soldiers who served in U.S. Army deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are now eligible for the Army Overseas Service Ribbon provided they served a minimum of 11 cumulative months (within a 24-month period) or nine continuous months in a temporary change of station or temporary tour of duty status.

The Army Overseas Service Ribbon is worn under the Army Service Ribbon and the Army Good Conduct Ribbon in order of precedence.

Army Ribbon Chart/Army Ribbon Builder
The order of wear is probably one of the most common mistakes soldiers make on their uniform ribbon racks. Thanks to eagle-eyed NCOs, the troops usually look sharp before inspections, boards and other significant events. These seasoned professionals have an extraordinarily refined attention to detail and most can spot an infraction from across a room.

Long ago back before computers were commonplace and before the Internet existed, I was a junior enlisted man and I went before a below-the-zone promotion board. I was so nervous that I put my three ribbons on backwards, so they were not in proper order. It was a tough lesson in the value of attention to detail and proper preparation. Needless to say, I didn’t get the promotion. I had no excuse other than the fact that I was unprepared, but today there is definitely no excuse for mistakes of that kind.

Nonetheless, it happens, when you’re new or inexperienced despite the fact that there are many U.S. Army resources that explain how ribbons should be placed and ordered in a ribbon rack. There are numerous official U.S. Army ribbon charts, some are online as images, some are available as a hard copy, and most are rather helpful, but nothing is more reliable and foolproof than using USAMM’s Army Ribbon chart and Army Ribbon builder.  

Once a visitor is on the USAMM’s Army ribbon chart page, all they have to do is find their ribbons and medals, select the ribbons or medals they have earned and USAMM’s Army ribbon builder will build a virtual ribbon rack and place them in order of precedence according to the U.S. military uniform regulation of each service. It is literally as easy as clicking your mouse. There is no need to look up regulations, examine pictures, or explore Army ribbon charts. All you have to do is click and the Army ribbon builder will construct a ribbon rack for you.

Were you in the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard and now you’re in the U.S. Army? It doesn’t matter, just find your ribbons and awards on USAMM’s Army ribbon chart, select those you’ve earned and USAMM’s Army ribbon builder will do the rest. The best part is once the order is submitted it is in the capable hands of military ribbon experts, many of them veterans themselves, who will use what you selected in the Army ribbon chart and assemble your Army ribbon rack using your input in the Army ribbon builder.

Army Ribbon Order
In the latter part of my Army career I was fortunate to have the ability to use USAMM’s Army ribbon chart and Army ribbon builder to construct my ribbon rack for promotion pictures and to update my ribbon rack after receiving an award. I never had to worry about the Army ribbon order when I used USAMM.

When you have been in for a few decades, the ribbon rack gets a bit large and trying to figure out the Army ribbon order can be time consuming for even the most seasoned soldier. There are regulations to review, memos, you name it. For a person who is unfamiliar with the military, trying to put together a veteran’s ribbon rack can be confusing.

USAMM takes the mystery out of the Army ribbon order by offering simple to use, guaranteed technology that can help anyone build a ribbon rack that has ribbons in the proper Army ribbon order.

  • Author avatar
    Steven Alvarez