The Army Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) is granted to any soldier who, while serving in the U.S. Army, distinguishes themselves with exceptionally meritorious service to the U.S. in a duty of great responsibility. The achievement must be of a level as to merit acknowledgement for service that is positively "exceptional." Exceptional performance of ordinary duties does not alone justify the award. For service not associated with actual war, the term "duty of a great responsibility" applies to a restricted range of positions than in a time of war, and commands proof of conspicuously indicative achievement.
However, justification of the award may increase by virtue of exceptionally meritorious service in a sequence of higher positions of great significance. Due to the medal's criteria, majority of the recipients of the DSM are general officers. Awards can be given to personnel other than members of the U.S. Armed Forces for wartime services only, and then exclusively under exceptional circumstances, with express Presidential approval. Separate DSMs were established for the individual U.S. branches of service as well as a fifth version of the medal (a senior award of the U.S. Department of Defense).