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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.