How to wear U.S. Marine Corps awards is covered in Marine Corps Uniform Regulations MCO 1020.34H dated 1 May 2018. The regulation is pretty straightforward and guides Marines on how to wear USMC awards.
In fact, Chapter 5, page 1-108 is where any Marine should start reading if they want to learn about the wear of USMC awards. But given the many uniforms the Marine Corps has, and the differences in uniforms between the genders, we will focus this post on the more popular uniforms that are worn by most Marines who have USMC awards.
According to the Marine Corps uniform regulations, USMC awards, in particular, authorized insignia “will be worn on the left breast of all service and dress coats. It may be worn at the individual's option on khaki shirts worn as the outer garment (with or without ribbons), utility coats or the maternity work uniform coats. Miniature insignia, one-half regular size, will be worn on evening dress jackets. Breast insignia will not be worn on the cloak/cape, AWC, extreme cold weather parka, tanker jacket, field coat or sweater.
“Anodized breast insignia will be worn on all evening dress and dress uniforms. Either anodized or oxidized (also known as “antique” finish) breast insignia may be worn at the individual’s option on the service uniforms, but mixing of anodized and oxidized breast insignia is not authorized. Only anodized Marine Special Operator insignia will be worn on the dress and service uniforms. When breast insignia are worn on the utility uniform, anodized or oxidized breast insignia will be worn, with the exception that subdued brown or black breast insignia may be prescribed in a field environment in lieu of oxidized breast insignia. Only oxidized Marine Special Operator insignia will be worn on the utility uniform,” according to the USMC awards regulation section, Chapter 5 of the Marine Corps uniform regulations.
“When worn on the dress coat, service coat, khaki shirt, or maternity tunic, the insignia will be placed with wings horizontal and parallel to the top of the breast pockets (if any). On women's coats and combat utility uniform coats with slanted pockets, a horizontal line tangent to the highest point of the pocket (or top corner of the service tape in the case of the combat utility uniform coat) is considered the top of the pocket. When worn alone on the dress and service coats and shirts, the insignia will be worn in the same position a single ribbon would be worn. When worn with medals, ribbons, or marksmanship badges, the bottom of the insignia will be centered 1/8 inch above the top row of such awards. When successively decreasing rows of ribbon bars are worn (as in subparagraph 5301.5), and the top row of ribbons is such that centering the insignia presents an unsatisfactory appearance, the insignia may be centered between the outer edge of the coat lapel and the left edge of the vertically aligned ribbon rows,” according to the USMC awards regulation section, Chapter 5 of the Marine Corps uniform regulations.
USMC Awards and Awards from Other Branches
If you are a Marine who served in another branch of military service, you may be authorized to wear your previously earned awards with USMC awards. According to Marine Corps uniform regulations, “Marines who served in or were attached to another branch of the U.S. military services and received a decoration, unit award, or service award of comparable criteria to one issued by the naval service may wear the award on Marine Corps uniforms, unless otherwise prohibited by these regulations.”
The Marine Corps uniform regulations covering USMC awards continues: “Examples of other U.S. service awards which are not authorized include: marksmanship medals/ribbons (Navy/Coast Guard/Air Force), USAF Outstanding Airman of the Year, USAF Recognition Ribbon, USAF Longevity Service Award, NCO Professional Development/Education ribbons (Army/Air Force), Army Service/USAF training ribbons.
“The Combat Infantryman's Badge, Combat Medical Badge, and Combat Action Badge are not authorized for wear on the Marine Corps uniform. Upon submission of evidence to their commanding officer, personnel who are awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Medical Badge may be authorized to wear the Combat Action Ribbon. Since the eligibility criteria for the Combat Action Badge is not comparable to that of the Combat Action Ribbon, personnel who were awarded the Combat Action Badge are not authorized to wear the Combat Action Ribbon.”
USMC Awards on Civilian Attire
USMC awards on civilian attire are also covered in the Marine Corps uniform regulations. It says “Decorations, medals, appropriate ribbon bars, or lapel buttons may be worn on civilian clothes at the individual's discretion, per the guidance provided below. Individuals should ensure that the occasion and the manner of wearing will not reflect discredit on the award.
“Miniature medals may be worn with civilian evening dress (see paragraph 5203). The Medal of Honor may be worn with civilian evening dress. It will be worn around the neck with the ribbon under the coat jacket and the medallion hanging one inch below the bow tie. Miniature replicas of ribbons made in the form of enameled lapel buttons, or ribbons made in rosette form, may be worn on the left lapel of civilian clothes except civilian evening dress. Enameled lapel buttons should be worn with the long axis parallel to the ground.
“Honorable discharge, retirement, and FMCR buttons may be worn on the left lapel of civilian clothes except civilian evening dress. Those buttons manufactured with prong and clutch fasteners may be worn as tie tacks.”
USMC Awards and Decorations
USMC awards, with the exception of those decorations worn pendent from the neck, will be arranged in a horizontal line in order of precedence from the wearer’s right when medals are worn. The bottom edge of all medallions will be aligned.
“Hamilton Wash large and miniature medals, also known as ‘anodized,’ may be worn at the individual's option. Marines who exercise this option will have their own medals anodized at their own expense. Anodized medals will not be worn together with non-anodized medals by the same individual (except when a specific medal is not available in anodized finish); however, Marines with anodized medals may wear them in formation with Marines who have standard non-anodized medals,” according to the Marine Corps uniform regulation covering USMC awards.
USMC awards, particularly, medals with suspension ribbons bonded to a plastic backing instead of a metal bar are approved for wear at the option of the individual. These medals lie flatter than the standard medals and may include magnetic fasteners in lieu of clutches for attaching to the uniform. These medals will bear Marine Corps approval identification.
“Marines will wear all large medals to which they are entitled on dress ‘A’ coats. Miniatures of all medals entitled are required for officers/SNCO's when evening dress uniforms are worn,” according to the Marine Corps uniform regulations governing USMC awards.
The Marine Corps uniform regulation is a very detailed publication that informs the reader with granular details about spacing between medals, how medals show lay, overlap, etc. If you want to ensure your USMC awards are squared away for something like the Marine Corps Ball, it might be a good idea to leave your rack construction to knowledgeable professionals, like the folks at USAMM, or carefully and painstakingly put your rack together using the regulation.