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Navy Combat Action Ribbon: A History and Overview

Combat Action Ribbon CAR

Navy Combat Action Ribbon History
The Combat Action Ribbon is an award for Navy and Marine Corps personnel who render satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface engagement. The ribbon is also presented to Coast Guard members who are mobilized under U.S. Navy control.

Created in February 1969, it was originally retroactive to March 1, 1961 to personnel who met the requirements. However, the eligibility was changed to include participants of Word War II. Personnel dating back to December 7th, 1941 can be eligible for the award.

Navy Combat Action Ribbon Eligibility
The Navy Combat Action Ribbon is awarded to members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (when the Coast Guard, or units thereof, operate under the control of the Navy) in the grade of captain/colonel and junior thereto, who have actively participated in ground or surface combat.

The principal eligibility criterion is, regardless of military occupational specialty or rating, the individual must have rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface engagement. Neither service in a combat area nor being awarded the Purple Heart Medal automatically makes a service member eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.

In 2006, the secretary of the Navy added additional guidance in establishing eligibility. Personnel with direct exposure to the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) used by an enemy, with or without the immediate presence of enemy forces, constitutes active participation in a ground or surface engagement. Eligibility under this criterion is retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001.

Personnel who serve in clandestine or special operations, who by the nature of their mission, are restricted in their ability to return fire, and who are operating in conditions where the risk of enemy fire was great and expected to be encountered, may be eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.

The Combat Action Ribbon will not be awarded to personnel for aerial combat, since the Air Medal provides recognition for aerial combat exposure; however, a pilot or crewmember forced to escape or evade, after being forced down, may be eligible for the award.

Current U.S. Navy personnel who were formerly in the U.S. Army and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Medical Badge, upon submission of official military documentation to their commanding officer, may be authorized to wear the Combat Action Badge.

Award of the Combat Action Ribbon
Only one award of the Combat Action Ribbon is authorized per operation. Additional awards of the Combat Action Ribbon are represented by wearing a gold or silver, 5/16th inch stars on the service ribbon.

Other branches of services outside of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are not eligible to receive the Combat Action Ribbon.

Award of the Combat Action Ribbon, unlike other personal awards, is not subject to time limits.

Additional Eligibility for the Combat Action Ribbon
In addition to those eligible from 1941 to a date to be determined, the following criteria also apply:

  • Personnel in riverine and coastal operations, assaults, patrols, sweeps, ambushes, convoys, amphibious landings, and similar activities who have participated in firefights are eligible.
  • Personnel assigned to areas subjected to sustained mortar, missile, and artillery attacks who actively participate in retaliatory or offensive actions are eligible.
  • Personnel aboard a ship are eligible when the safety of the ship and the crew was endangered by enemy attack, such as a ship hit by a mine or a ship engaged by shore, surface, air, or sub-surface elements.
  • Personnel serving in peacekeeping missions, if not eligible by other criteria, are eligible to receive the award when all of the following criteria are met:
    • The member was subject to hostile, direct fire;
    • Based on the mission and the tactical situation, not returning fire was the best course of action; and
    • The member was in compliance with the rules of engagement and his orders by not returning fire.

Eligible Operations for the Combat Action Ribbon
Check with your Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard chain of command of service specific human resources office for guidance about which operations are considered eligible.

Comments on this post ( 21 )

  • Jan 30, 2023

    Donald Drake-

    Have seen that you’ve twice posted the same question and we want to help. Please read this blog post and follow the guidace in it. Recommend you contact your service specific human resources office or reach out to your congressman/woman for assistance. Good luck. Glad we can help. Steve at USAMM

    — Steven Alvarez

  • Jan 30, 2023

    MCB10 went ashore in chu lia Vietnam in 65 and pushed inland to build a air strip are we eligible for the ribbon and medal

    — Donald Drake

  • Jan 20, 2023

    Iam retired from Marine Corps ( 1976-96)…I was on Naval Ship and was sitting outside Somolia…We were taken off ship and placed on shore around Air Field to secure it when they were trying to evacuate Americans, then we routinely had watch around field in bunkers. Also was at the Gulf of Sidera, on standby ,apon ship waiting to go on shore, …I remember our Unit had LIVE fire coming on us ,one night, We were resting for the night and Alarms went off, Had to DAWN GasMask, Helmet FlackJackets,ECT…Rounds being fired from different locations..I certainly feel that rates the CAR !!

    — Charles Divvens

  • Jan 14, 2023

    My CAR Story –
    On April 19, 1972, I was the GQ OOD on the USS Higbee, DD-806, on a shore bombardment run off Dong Hoi, North Viet Nam in company with the USS Oklahoma, USS Lloyd Thomas and USS Sterett when we were attacked by two NVN MIGs. A bomb dropped on their first pass missed, but a second pass scored a hit, completely destroying our after 5" gun mount, starting a fuel oil fire, and punching13 holes in the hull below the waterline. Our damage control team did a great job, and we limped back to Subic for repairs. The Sterett downed one of the MIGs with a Terrier missile.

    — Stan Mate

  • Jan 14, 2023

    Yes, it should be a medal.

    — Frank Durham

  • Jan 14, 2023

    In a Navy unit during 2nd battle of Ramadi Iraq 2006 attached to the 1/6 Marines and did missions with 69th armored division. Multiple shots fired at our convoys and on our combat outpost in the city. 1 mission even involved blown out tires on my truck and evacuating from the city by way of Abraham tanks which were our security. I never fired a round so I’m not authorized to wear a car? I retire in 3 weeks.

    — Bill G

  • Jan 14, 2023

    MCB 10 went ashore in chu Lai Vietnam in 1965 to build a air strip are we getting the medal

    — Donald Drake

  • Jan 14, 2023

    Served aboard USS Mansfield DD-728 Oct 66-Aug 68. Sep 25,1967 while on operation Sea Dragon North of DMZ we were struck by an enemy shore battery and sustained casualties, which included the death of one of our shipmates. It wasn’t until after I was discharged that I learned that my ship was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy Unit Commendation for operations while I was onboard. I was still in the Reserves and had my command request these awards which were eventually presented to me.

    — WARNER JOHNSON

  • Jan 14, 2023

    I agree with Mr. Bergmeister. We have the ribbon so why not a medal to go with it.

    — Robert Wollam

  • Jan 13, 2023

    RG Smith: https://www.usamm.com/products/combat-action-ribbon-t-shirt

    — Steve

  • Jan 13, 2023

    Our advice, as veterans and military retirees is that if you want changes in the service, you need to engage your elected officials and make them work for you. The CAR is a ribbon and we respect the argument that it should be a medal. We recommend mobilizing your local veterans groups and getting a meeting with your local congressional rep. Draft up solutions to make their job easier. All they can do is say “no.”

    As for the CAR not being awarded to air crews, that’s a great point. Maybe it is because aircrews get other awards like Air Medals and such. Again, we recommend getting vet groups involved and putting those politicians to work. And if you were told you would get an award and you haven’t, definitely engage your congressional rep.

    Hope this helps. Thanks for the comments. —Steve at USAMM

    — Steve

  • Jan 13, 2023

    Its the Combat Action Ribbon——authorize aircrew who have directly engaged with enemy to rate the ribbon. It is not the GROUND CAR. A fighter pilot who has engaged in a dogfight or a helo pilot landing troops in a hot LZ and being fired upon does not rate it?????

    — Mac Kolar

  • Jan 13, 2023

    The CAR should have an associated medal. The Army has there separate CIB and Marine and Sailors who rate the ribbon should a have a medal signifying its importance. The medal could designate sailors on one side of the medal itself and the other side designate Marines. Depending on the service the appropriate side should face should face to the front.

    — Mac Kolar

  • Jan 13, 2023

    It makes no sense when you where your miniature ribbons one can see you got a medal for coaching little league

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Outstanding_Volunteer_Service_Medal

    but has no way of knowing if you ever were in combat.

    A simple solution is make the CAR a medal. We already have the ribbon so all we need is a design for the medal to hang from it!

    — Francis X. Bergmeister

  • Jan 13, 2023

    I was deployed assigned to Camp Commando, Kuwait on 2003 detached to the IMEF. On 20 March 2003 a missile hit our base and send everyone scrambling for cover. Later on an NBC alarm went off because if the detection of chemicals. We suited up in full MOPP gear. We were told we rated the CAR

    — Joseph Ronda

  • Jan 13, 2023

    I was on the USS CANBERRA. When we went north of the DMZ off the coast of north Vietnam we took hits from a shore battery. Every one on board received the combat action ribbon.

    — Richard Tres

  • Jan 13, 2023

    How about a hat, hoodie or T-shirt with CAR on?

    — RG Smith

  • Oct 03, 2022

    Lee, there are a few of us here at USAMM who know all too well what you are talking about. Indirect fire in Iraq, especially in the Green Zone was an almost daily occurence and in many cases happened several times per day. Our advice would be to reach out to either your conrgessman or a veterans organization and bring light to this issue. There are many men and women in the Army who earned the Combat Action Badge because they were nearby when rockets and mortars hit. But that’s the key, being engaged by the enemy. The folks I know who earned the CAB had to run for cover and take action to avoid getting hit. Simply because the GZ got hit a lot by mortars and rockets, and they served there, does not qualify them for the CAB. If your service there was marked with close engagements, I would reach out to those previously mentioned. They might be able to help. Good luck and always great to hear from our OIF brethren.

    — Steve from USAMM

  • Oct 03, 2022

    I can’t remember the name of the ship that was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon. It had one missile fired at it but it flew over the ship and caused no damage. They were pier-side at the time and then got underway soon after the missile incident.

    As you know, there were hundreds of Navy personnel that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. My tour was 12 months in Iraq. While stationed in Iraq, I’ve had numerous rockets and mortars fire at us into the green zone. I also rode in several convoys outside the wire. My trailer was even destroyed during one of these attacks. Fortunately, I was not in it when it got hit.

    Just wondering if any consideration has been given to all that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These assignments were much more dangerous then sitting in a ship pier-side and getting underway really fast. I’m not saying that ship did not deserve the award. But what are the standards for eligibility after a 12 month tour in Iraq or Afghanistan?

    — Lee Ving

  • Aug 20, 2022

    When wearing the Navy Mess Dress uniform, miniature medals are worn on the left breast. Since there are, as far as I know, no equivalent miniature ribbons to be worn on a uniform; a recipient of non medal ribbons is not authorized to wear these when in Mess Dress Uniform.
    I have always regretted this because, I consider the Combat Action Ribbon as a very important award.

    — PHCM(nac) Richard P. Crowe, USN, Retired

  • May 20, 2022

    Greetings,
    I served on the USS Diachenko APD123, including deployment in Vietnam.
    The ship lists the Combat Action Ribbon among is Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons.
    When was the Combat Action Award Ribbon provided, and who could also receive the recognition along with the USS Diachenko APD1233?

    — Patrick J Callahan Jr

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