So, you’ve recently come into possession of a family member’s old military medals, one of which is a Commendation Medal. Or perhaps you know that a relative is going to be awarded a Commendation Medal and want to show the appropriate level of interest for their achievement.
Regardless of the situation, you have questions about this unique military decoration—and Medals of America has answers. First, what is a Commendation Medal?
Commendation Medals and Ribbons are mid-level decorations awarded to members of the United States military who distinguish themselves for exceptional meritorious service or acts of heroism. This can refer to both individual acts of heroism in battle or outstanding achievements as a unit.
Originally established as a service ribbon, it was first presented in 1943 by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy. Today, U.S. military members as well as foreign military personnel can receive a Commendation Medal.
There are five Commendation Medals which are awarded by service or branch, with each having their own specific criteria, devices and rules (although, these are subject to change). Without further ado, let’s break each one down:
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Presented by the United States Armed Forces, the Joint Service Commendation Medal (JSCM) is awarded to individuals for recognition of meritorious achievement. First established on June 25, 1963, the military medal and ribbon is given on behalf of the Secretary of Defense to senior officers serving on a joint duty activity.
The JSCM is highest in precedence to all service commendation medals and ribbons. Once limited to only “V” devices, the JSCM is now eligible for the following devices:
- “V” Device—For individual who displayed acts of valor while in combat against an enemy of the U.S. who went far beyond what is expected.
- “C” Device—Awarded to service members who demonstrate meritorious acts and achievements performing while under combat conditions.
- “R” Device—For individuals who have displayed meritorious acts using a weapon system or other warfighting activities which directly impacted combat operations.
- Bronze or Silver Oak Leaf Cluster—Bronze oak leaf clusters are worn on ribbons to denote subsequent awards, while silver oak leaf clusters signify five bronze oak leaf clusters.
Army Commendation Medal
Originally instituted in 1945 as a commendation ribbon, the Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) was later redesignated as a medal in 1960. The military ribbon and medal are awarded to members of the Army for heroism, meritorious achievement or service, as well as friendly foreign military members after 1962.
In fact, you don’t need to look far back in history to see a foreign military member receive this award. In 2017, South Korean soldiers were awarded the Army Commendation Medal for their heroism when helping rescue a North Korean defector.
The Army Commendation Medal was originally meant to award soldiers where the Bronze Star was not appropriate (i.e., outside of combat areas). The award is given to army members in the grade of O-6 and below and may be awarded with a “V,” “C” or “R” device and/or silver and bronze oak leaf clusters.
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Unlike the Army Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (NMCCM) has historically been given out less frequently and is seen as a higher achievement. Originally established in 1944 as a ribbon-only award, the current NMCCM (formerly the “Commendation Ribbon”) was officially authorized by the Secretary of the Navy in 1950.
The design closely mimics that of the Army’s Commendation Medal, with green/white stripes and an American bald eagle spreading its wings. This military medal is awarded to Navy and Marine Corps members (or those serving with them in any capacity) who display acts of heroism and perform meritorious achievements or service.
For acts of heroism and meritorious achievements to be recognized, they must be considered outstanding and above a certain degree of excellence. Authorized to be worn with the medal is the bronze “V” device, with subsequent awards signified by silver and gold stars on the military ribbon.
Air Force Commendation Medal
Instituted in 1958, the Air Force Commendation Medal recognizes outstanding achievements and meritorious services rendered on behalf of the United States Air Force. It’s awarded to personnel below the rank of Brigadier General.
In 2017, the Secretary of Defense implemented new criteria for the devices that accompany this decoration (among other military medals and ribbons).
- “V” Device—In recognition of individual acts of valor displayed in combat.
- “R” Device—In recognition of direct hands-on employment of a weapon system (i.e., airmen in cyber operations and intelligence).
- “C” Device—In recognition of meritorious acts under difficult combat conditions.
Note that bronze or silver oak leaf clusters can also be awarded to denote subsequent awards.
Coast Guard Commendation Medal
The U.S. Coast Guard Commendation Medal (CGCM) was authorized in 1947 as the “Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant.” It’s awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service, and also for meritorious service resulting in unusual or outstanding achievement.
In addition to a bronze letter “V” device and gold or silver star, recipients can receive their ribbon with a silver letter “O” standing for “Operational Distinguishing Device.” It is awarded for direct participation of a hands-on nature in a mission of operational service.
Awarding Meritorious Achievement
Although the Commendation Medal isn’t uncommon in today’s military service, it’s a great achievement all the same. Service members who display acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while performing their duties should be recognized for their contribution to their unit and the nation. Have any questions about the Commendation Medal? We’re all ears.