What is the Difference Between Military Ribbons and Military Medals?

By Full Editorial

Understanding service decorations and ribbons and their complexities may be a challenging activity to the untrained mind or to anyone who has not served. We’re going to break it down step by step to make it a bit simpler and less complicated, mainly if you haven’t worked and placed together a loved one’s decorations, certificates and ribbons.

Army Medals:

Military Medal Sizes:

These are two medal types, one standard scale and the other small. The miniature medals are a full-size one-half scaled and are worn on casual clothes, as well as all formal dress and dinner dress uniforms on the left breast of the wearer. Full-size medals are worn on uniforms, and on the left breast, too, dress wear.

Miniature and full-size medals have the same precedence, but miniature medals allow for more medals per row, usually four to six medals per row. Each army branch has different specifications for full-size and miniature medals.

Distinguishing the Various Medal Types:

Three main medal divisions exist: decoration, service, and commemorative. All three medals have distinctive differences, aims, and requirements. The crucial distinctions between the three decorations are that the decorations for honour and duty are placed in cabinets for display, while the medals for commemoration are not.

  • Service medals are campaign-specific, and conflict-specific medals awarded on a DD-214 and have a rounder medallion, and usually have the words ‘Service Medal’ in the medal’s name. These are the “I was there” awards such as the medals for the campaign against Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some military awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Expeditionary Medal for the Armed Forces and the Award for the Global War on Terrorism Program, to list just a handful. They are usually awarded during a given time for being in a particular area and do not require an outstanding achievement to be awarded. They are awarded for good behavior, performance and involvement in a conflict.

  • Sources of these decorations include Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan War Medal, and Kuwaiti Liberation Medal.

Military Ribbons:

The mounted ribbons have multiple sizes: traditional slide-on ribbons, miniature ribbons, and mild-thin ribbons. Each set of military ribbons, as explained below, is always mounted to military specifications and has the time and place to be worn.

Ribbon slides are the only ribbons that we sell individually and as a piece mounted on. Medals of America can mount the slide on the ribbons in-house, or if you feel ambitious, you can mount your own by ordering holding bars, individual ribbon slide, and attachments.

  • Mini-ribbons are a smaller version of slide-on ribbons but are not permitted to wear on uniforms, but may be worn on civilian clothes such as working polos or weekend family barbecues. They are a popular choice for putting on hats, blazers lapels when going out to dinner and polos at work to show pride in your service.
  • Mil-thin ribbons are a type of Medals of America trademarked ribbon. Mil-thin ribbons are mounted as a solid rack, lay completely flat, worn on uniforms and always mounted according to military specifications.

Ribbon-only Prizes:

Ribbon-only awards are a type of award that is awarded only in the form of a ribbon because there is no related medal with that award. Each branch has different regulations regarding wearing ribbon-only awards when wearing ribbons and medals of full size.

Unit Citations also fall within the ribbon-only awards category and are worn by each branch on the uniform, different ways. These are gold border painted ribbons that adopt the same precedent as ribbon-only decorations. The Army displays unit citation awards solely on the right chest and other service decorations and ribbons on the left chest, dividing the unit citation awards from each other.