Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform

Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform

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One of the first lessons taught to new recruits is proper wear of the medals and ribbons, uniform and insignia. The same rules apply to wear of military awards by veterans and retirees on their old uniform. There are many occasions when tradition, patriotism, ceremonies and social occasions call for the wear of military ribbons and awards.

Civilian Dress and Military Medals

l029 Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform

Purple Heart Lapel Pin

The most common manner of wearing a decoration or wearing military medals on civilian clothes is as a lapel pin in the left lapel of a civilian suit jacket. The small enameled lapel pin represents the ribbon bar of a single decoration or medal an individual has received (usually the highest award or one having special meaning to the wearer). Many well-known veterans such as former Senator Bob Dole, a World War II Purple Heart Medal recipient, wears a lapel pin. Pins are available for all awards and some ribbons such as the Combat Action Ribbon or Presidential Unit Citation. Small miniature wings, parachute badges and Combat Infantry Badges are also worn in the lapel or as a tie tack. Additionally, retirees are encouraged to wear their retired pin and World War II veterans are encouraged to wear their Honorable Discharge Pin (affectionately referred to as the “ruptured duck”).

l390 150x150 Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform

Ruptured Duck Pin

Honorably discharged and retired Armed Forces members may wear full-size or miniature medals on civilian suits on appropriate occasions such as Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day. Female members may wear miniature or full size medals on equivalent dress. It is not considered appropriate to wear skill or qualification badges on civilian attire.

Formal Civilian Wear

For more formal occasions, it is correct and encouraged to wear miniature decorations and medals. For a black or white tie occasion, the rule is quite simple: if the lapel is wide enough wear the miniatures on the left lapel or, in the case of a shawl lapel on a tuxedo, the miniature medals are worn over the left breast pocket. The center of the holding bar of the bottom row of medals should be parallel to the ground immediately above the pocket. Do not wear a pocket handkerchief. Miniature medals really do make a handsome statement of patriotic service at weddings and other social events. Miniature ribbons and medals can also be worn on a civilian suit at veterans’ functions, memorial events, formal occasions of ceremony and social functions of a military nature.

Wear of the Uniform

On certain occasions, retired Armed Forces personnel may wear either the uniform prescribed at the date of retirement or any of the current active duty authorized uniforms. Retirees should adhere to the same grooming standards as Armed Forces active duty personnel when wearing the uniform (for example, a beard is inappropriate while in uniform). Whenever the uniform is worn, it must be done in such a manner as to reflect credit upon the individual and the service from which he/she is retired. (Do not mix uniform items.)

The occasions for uniform wear by retirees are:

• Military ceremonies.
• Military funerals, weddings, memorial services and inaugurals.
• Patriotic parades on national holidays.
• Military parades in which active or reserve units are participating.
• Educational institutions when engaged in giving military instruction or responsible for military discipline.
• Social or other functions when the invitation has obviously been influenced by the member’s earlier active service.

Honorably separated wartime veterans may wear the uniform authorized at the time of their service. The occasions are:

• Military funerals, memorial services, and inaugurals.
• Patriotic parades on national holidays.
• Any occasion authorized by law.
• Military parades in which active or reserve units are participating.

Non-wartime service personnel separated (other than retired, Army National Guard and Reserve) are not authorized to wear the uniform but may wear the military medals.

Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform , 9.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
There are 55 comments for this article
  1. Kathy Benfield at 10:00 pm
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    I want to make sure that I understand what I have just read, so that my husband, a 16 year Army, Vietnam Combat SSGT Non Commissioned Officer, my legally wear his Dress Greens & Service Medals or Ribbons to a veteran friend's Military Honors Funeral, Patriotic Ceremonies, Parades, etc. A dear veteran brother/comrade is in a local cardiac ICU unit on life support & is expected to pass soon. My husband would like to wear his dress uniform and medals. Should he only wear the ribbons on the bars or both? Thank you very much! God bless you for the service you provide to our service men, women & vets.

    • Matt at 8:41 am
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      Honorably discharged veterans may wear the uniform to military funerals. AR 670-1 , I believe the last update is 2008, is the guide for how to set up the uniform. Rule of thumb, medals or ribbons, not both except for unit awards that are worn over the left pocket are only available in ribbons.

    • Jim at 8:21 pm
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      Veterans are NOT the same as retirees. With only 16 years of service, he is not a retiree unless he also served in the reserve long enough to retire from the reserve. Without being a retiree, he may do so only under the regulations applicable to those who served in an undeclared war. His rank insignia may only be the highest rank he held during the war, not the highest rank he held on active duty if the two are not the same. He must appear with the same grooming standards and with the same weight limits applicable to active duty personnel. I.e., he has to have a military haircut, no beard, military moustache if they are still allowed and he chooses to have one, and not be overweight by military standards.

      • Greg at 10:14 pm
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        I disagree. Vietnam veterans are considered wartime veterans! You are playing with words. The rules do not define any difference between declared war and undeclared war. They are both still war. As a Vietnam veteran, Kathy’s husband may wear the uniform on the four occasions listed under honorably separated wartime veterans.

  2. Kathy Benfield at 10:03 pm
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    Is it legal for an honorable discharged combat veteran to wear his dress uniform and or medals/ribbons during his funeral service when he passes? Thank you very much! God bless, Kathy Lucas Benfield

  3. Tim at 11:57 pm
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    Yes on both questions. In regards to the wear of the uniform, as long as it is within regulations for proper wear, it can be worn in both instances. Make sure ribbons and medals are worn properly according to the regulations of the service.

  4. Aldelmo lopez at 1:03 pm
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    I'm a retired Army Officer that currently works for a U.S. Government agency. I represented my agency for 3 years while working at the U.S. Central Command. Upon my departure, the command presented me with a Joint Civilian Service Commendation (JCSC) Award/Medal which is considered equivalent to a joint Service Commendation Medal in the military. I am going to attend a military ceremony and plan to wear my uniform. Can I wear the JCSC medal together with my military awards?

  5. C. Uhl at 12:16 pm
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    As a combat wounded, 2 tour, 23 year veteran of the Army I have the utmost respect for the medals earned by my follow soldiers. My question is this: Help me find the reg that states what medals and such must be worn on the ASU's / Dress Greens.
    Thanks for any help.

    SFC C. Uhl

  6. Rebel Hagan at 5:15 pm
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    My son who will be commissioned this year as a US Army 2nd Lt, has asked his grandfather, a retired US Army Sgt 1st Class to present him with his first salute. My dad can no longer wear his ASU's, what would be the proper attire for him, on this special occassion. Thank you so much, I look forward to your reply.

    Rebel Hagan

    • Larry at 11:36 pm
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      Any RETIREE or COMBAT VETERAN MAY GIVE A SALUTE WHETHER OR NOT HE IS IN A MILITARY UNIFORM.

  7. Tom at 2:09 pm
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    I have 9 awards of the Navy Achievement Medal. I know the silver star indicates 6th award, but how do I wear the other 3 gold stars on my ribbon bar? Thnks

  8. Major Paul Zimmerman at 5:36 pm
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    I am a retired Air Force Pilot, can I wear my A-2 flight jacket and civilian clothing to my daughters Navy Commissioning ceremony?

  9. james at 9:59 pm
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    how do you wear 4 medals in the navy, must they overlap? three on the low holding bar and one on top looks weird.

  10. Mark at 9:29 am
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    Trying to help my dad who is retied Army build his medals and we are trying to determine what the guide is in reference to the Commemorative medals and if and when they can be worn. If anyone has information on this we would apreciate it.

    • Larry F. at 12:59 pm
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      Mark, did you ever find an answer to your question? I've been retired since December of 2010 and would like to know the samer thing. Also, do you know the max number of ribbons that can be worn at one time? Any help would be greatly appreciated. You can reach me directly at larryfogall@gmail.com. Thanks and have a wonderful day!!

    • Jeff Tomczak at 9:28 am
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      Yes, commemorate medals can be worn but on civilian dress only. If a retiree choose to wear a dress uniform, then only the authorized (awarded) medals of his/her service can be worn (not commemorative).

  11. KDS at 2:06 pm
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    I am retired from the military after 23 years and now an officer in the US Merchant Marines. The US Merchant Marines wear the same basic dress uniform as the US Navy, US Public Health Service, and the NOAA Corps. What are the guide lines for wearing military medals and ribbons on the US Merchant Marine uniform?

  12. Larry F. at 12:51 pm
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    Hello. I've been retired from the Army since December of 2010. I have two questions; #1 – Can I wear the Commemorative ribbons alaong with all my others? #2 – What is the max number of ribbons that can be worn at one time?

      • Jack Russell at 6:16 pm
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        That is not exactly correct. You need to look up or email the American War Library, and get a copy of your 201A (Military Award Report). You will have to send (FAX) them a copy of your DD214. Within a few days they will send you a copy of your 201A which will show all of your medals, ribbons, and badges, pdf. Some have just been approved by congress, then made retroactive back through a certain time period. I recently got my 201A back and received 3 new medals, because of duty I put in overseas. I was in the Marines, then in the Army. Most Vets don't know they can now wear the Cold War Medal. Get the certificate first. Mine is signed by Donald Rumsfeld. Congress has not voted on the distribution yet because of budgetary shortages. When the American War Library sends you your copy of your 210A, click on the Cold War Medal. If explains you cannot wear it during active duty yet, but if you were honorably discharged, you can wear it on your uniform with your other medals, during parades, funerals, honor guards, balls, and other holidays. I suggest you download the Army Uniform Manual, or US Navy, USMC uniform manual. For order and placement. Medals of America also has a section of medal sequence lacements. Those of you that have relatives that have passed, or stil around will benefit checkin in with the American War Library. You can post all of your or your relatives service records there and they will keep them there forever, as a Symbol of our veterans sacrifice.

  13. James S Bobiney at 9:15 am
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    So, can a veteran who is receiving 100% VA Compensation and served during the Gulf War Era but did not retire(served 10 years), wear his Military Uniform(Service or Mess Dress) to the annual ball for the branch in which he served?
    Thank you.

  14. J Henry at 11:03 am
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    "Miniature medals really do make a handsome statement of patriotic service at weddings and other social events."

    Is this accurate? I'm a USAF vet and reading over AFI 36-2903, weddings or social events would not be covered as events authorized for use of medals on civilian attire. I think they should be though.

  15. Shane Hawkinson at 9:55 pm
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    Hi, and thanks for this info. How does the DD-214 identify "Honorably separated wartime veteran" I served in the Iraq theater 2003. Also, I doubt that I'd wear the uniform actually, but if I did I'd need a refitting for sure. How would one go about that? This was really helpful regarding the wear of the special unit commendation. Thank you again.

  16. JHock at 10:25 pm
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    An indirect question, please; does anyone know the symbolic description of the WWII Merchant Marine Victory medal ? Specifically, the female figure with wrap around drape?, trident, laurel,and what looks like a submarine telescope on the bottom? I've researched sites all day and cannot find an explanation. After a long journey, we found my Merchant Marine Dad was eligible for Veteran status. I'm looking into medals and ribbons that may have applied during his part in the Asiatic-Pacific War Campaign. Thanks for any help or direction.

  17. Lori Ann R at 8:02 pm
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    I recently returned from a one year deployment to Afghanistan as a DoD Civilian. I was awarded three medals (Global War on Terriorism, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Army's Outstanding Civilian Medal). I am getting married to an Army Major, who will be in his Dess Uniform. I would like to know if I can wear my Medals on my wedding dress.

  18. Lori Ann R at 8:40 pm
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    I recently returned from a one year deployment to Afghanistan as a DoD Civilian. I was awarded three medals (Global War on Terriorism

  19. Ram Chavez at 11:18 am
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    How can we wear our Miniature Military Medals and unit citations & awards like the, Presidential Unit Citation, the Valorous Unit Award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Republic of Vietnam Civic Action Honor Medal (First Class Unit Citation), on civilian attire?

  20. Erin at 1:41 am
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    I am looking for additional resources for females wearing mini-medals in formal dress (civilian attire)? Its fine if I wear a suit but what about a dress? This post briefly mentions it but I am looking for additional resources.
    Thank you so much, any assistance is appreciated.

  21. Dave at 11:18 am
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    I am a USNR vet (68-69) and a current member of the Tennessee State Guard. I have earned several ribbons in the TNSG and am uncertain about order of wear on my dress uniform. Can you help sort this out? Also, is it permissible to wear Commemorative ribbons in combination with US and state? If so in what order are they worn?

    • Kirk at 2:47 pm
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      Use our Mil-thin Ribbon Builder to see our Guard ribbons. Also, commemoratives are in there but are not to be worn on an official uniform.

  22. Trin at 10:28 pm
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    Does anyone know if you can wear the "California National Guard Federal Service Ribbon" at the same time as the "California Enlisted Trainers Excellence Ribbon (CAETER) or does it have to be worn one or the other? Please help…Thanks

  23. David at 6:05 pm
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    I served 7 years in the National Guard and then went active duty with the Army National Guard ( AGR ). That's title 32. I served there 22 years and retired active duty. I receive retirement and teach Jr ROTC in High school. During my service my Guard time I received some State awards. While on Active Duty I received BOTH State and Federal awards and was correct in wearing all ribbons earned. I was told today that since I retired active duty, not National Guard, I cannot wear my Guard ribbons. I can only wear my Federal ribbons. 670-1 does not cover this.

  24. Robert Hagen at 12:30 pm
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    Just trying to clarify:
    I was thinking of wearing a suit/tie to a military BCT graduation and wanted to confirm that i was allowed to wear authorized medals above left pocket
    Retired honorably 20+ years

  25. Royden J R Baker MBE at 1:41 pm
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    I recognise it will not be easy to find an answer to this very British query, but in the absence of another forum to pose the question, here goes. I am a retired soldier with medals and have served on my local Council for 32 years until I stood down at 80 years of age. I have always said that when the invitations go out for official Council functions the order should be worded saying decorations to be worn, but it always says 'Chains of Office shall be worn' because the notice is primarily addressed to fellow Mayors and like officials. I et an invitation as a retired Councillor and I do not wear my medals because I do not think the way the invitation is worded includes me. However, I do feel that if the wording was changed to 'Decorations to be worn' that would definitely allow me to wear my medals and as the chains of office are decorations there would be no conflict. I have tried for many years whilst a Councillor to put this point over and I believe it is only that they are not sure of the protocol themselves that prevents them taking my advise. Do you have an opinion please?

  26. Lst at 12:28 pm
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    Going on an HONOR FLIGHT in a week. Is it OK to sew my chevrons Tech Sgt) on the sleeves of a jacket that is being furnished for the event?

  27. Jeff Tomczak at 9:13 am
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    I want to clarify something I read above. It states that a retiree (I assume this also includes honorable discharged but not fully retired personnel) can wear medals and ribbons on the last prescribed uniform. Since my AFB was 81152A (SP/K-9), my primary duty uniform was BDU's. I don't have my blues anymore and frankly don't think that I would fit into them anyway. I wanted to make sure that it was okay to wear my ribbons and/or medals on my B DU uniform for Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

  28. Rod at 2:29 pm
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    I was discharged from the navy in 1966, and spent my whole hitch aboard destroyers. With all of the schools I attended-fire fighting, NBC warfare, damage control, gunnery, etc-all of that on top of sonar school, do I qualify for a Surface Warfare pin?

    • Jeremy at 9:47 am
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      I do not believe so. In my experience, I had to learn all of the operations of my carrier. From the engineering spaces to the bridge. I had learn every divisions mission and certain aspects of the ship. ie. -The steam cycle, fire control radar, navigation, basic seamanship, air wing duties, etc. Then I had to go before a board of chiefs from all the different areas and pass an oral exam. Basically 12 -15 chiefs firing questions at you. To my knowledge, that is the only way to qualify for a SW pin. Heck I was a private pilot before I enlisted, they wouldn’t give me aviator wings though! ;)

  29. Jorge L Benitez at 11:54 am
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    Which civilian ribbon can be worn on a u.s. military uniform?

    Eagle Scout
    Arrow of Light

  30. Joe at 2:10 pm
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    Is the mini or small military medal enameled lapel pin worn parallel to the ground or at an angle with the boutineer button hole on the left lapel of a man’s jacket? Thank you! Joe

  31. Charles Schulze at 2:30 pm
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    I know that Air Force rules state that veterans may wear their medals on “military” occasions only. I noticed that MOA states that you can wear at social events and weddings. I personally believe it is OK to wear my medals (all earned) on a tuxedo at a social event. What are your thoughts?

  32. Don at 1:51 am
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    My question has to do with where do I wear my Southwest Asia Civilian Service Medal ribbon. I finally found one for this medal, and I would like to wear it. I have an AAM with oak leaf, GCM, NDM, NCOPD 2, Rainbow Ribbon, Overseas, and I wear the Cold War Ribbon as it is authorized on my Legion Color Guard Uniform.

    I earned the SWACSM just after I ETS. I ETS on Oct 3, 1990 and was feet down in Dhahran on December 22, 1990. I left in July 1991. I was sent the medal a year or so after I returned, and had already moved on to different things. I was told that I needed to get Campaign Stars for it, as it was the mirror of the SWASM. So, I would like to know if this is true about the Campaign Stars, I would have earned all three, and where do I wear it order of precedence. Should I wear it in the same place as the SWASM, or between the Over Seas and commemorative Cold War ribbon. I tried to find the regs for this medal, but cannot seem to find them. It is mentioned a bunch of times, but I cannot find the AR 670-20 that has it listed. This medal has not been issued now for about 20 years.

    Any help would be appreciated. I think that I should wear it, as I did serve in the sandbox, for 8 months. Longer than most active duty personnel.

  33. david vanacker at 8:51 am
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    I want to make a display case for my father’s wwII metals and ribbons. How should they be arranged in the case and is this the same way they would display on his uniform? Thanks

  34. First Born at 12:11 pm
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    Comment:
    I am interested in rebuilding my deceased father’s military history. When he passed I received a box that included his some of his ribbons and a few of his medals. I have photos and documents that provide a clue to gaps in what I have. I have his flag.
    When I discovered that my medals were stolen in a recent burglary, it became very important to me to preserve my Dad’s history. There in lies the questions.

    Question:
    1. Is there a proper method of display?

    2. What is the deal with commemorative medals?
    Are they military or are they civilian?
    Do they belong with medals that were earned while on duty?

    3. The burglary makes think of storage vs. display. Is there a preferred way?

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