Five Commendation Medals are awarded by branch or service. From left to right: Joint Service, Air Force, Army, Navy & Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
|Awarded by United States Department of Defense|
|Type||Military medal (Decoration)|
|Eligibility||Military personnel only|
|Awarded for||heroism, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service|
|Established||Navy & Marine Corps - 1943
Coast Guard - 1943
Army - 1945
Air Force - 1958
Joint Service - 1963
|Next (higher)||Meritorious Service Medal
Aerial Achievement Medal (USAF)
|Next (lower)||Achievement Medals|
Five Commendation ribbons are awarded by branch or service.
Top row: Joint Service, Air Force.
Bottom row: Army, Navy & Marine Corps, Coast Guard.
The Commendation Medal is a mid-level United States military decoration which is presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star Medal, a Commendation Medal with "V" Device or Combat "V" (Navy/Marine) is awarded; the "V" device may be authorized for wear on the service and suspension ribbon of the medal to denote valor. Each branch of the United States Armed Forces issues its own version of the Commendation Medal, with a fifth version existing for acts of joint military service performed under the Department of Defense.
The Commendation Medal was originally only a service ribbon and was first awarded by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. An Army Commendation Ribbon followed in 1945, and in 1949, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Commendation ribbons were renamed the "Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant." By 1960, the Commendation Ribbons had been authorized as full medals and were subsequently referred to as Commendation Medals.
Additional awards of the Army and Air Force Commendation Medals are denoted by bronze and silver oak leaf clusters. The Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Coast Guard Commendation Medal are authorized gold and silver 5/16 inch stars to denote additional awards. The Operational Distinguishing Device is authorized for wear on the Coast Guard Commendation Medal upon approval of the awarding authority. Order of Precedence is following the Bronze Star Medal but before the Prisoner of War Medal and all campaign medals. Each of the military services also awards separate Achievement Medals which are below the Commendation Medals in precedence.
By branch and service
The U.S. Air Force began issuing its own Air Force Commendation Medal in 1958 with additional awards denoted by oak leaf clusters. Prior to this time, USAF recipients received the Army Commendation Medal. It was not until 1996 that the "V" device was authorized on the Air Force Commendation Medal; prior to 1996, there was not a valor distinction in effect for the Air Force Commendation Medal. The Air Force Commendation Medal is worth three points under the Air Force promotion system. 
The Air Force Commendation Medal is awarded to American and foreign military personnel in the grade of O-6 and below who have performed noteworthy service in any capacity with the United States Air Force. Qualifying service for the award of the medal can be for distinctive meritorious achievement and service, acts of courage involving no voluntary risk of life, or sustained meritorious performance of duty. Approval of the award must be made by an officer in the grade of Colonel or higher.
The Air Force Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagonal medallion. On the medallion is a shield surmounted by an eagle superimposed over clouds. On the shield bears a pair of flyer's wings and a vertical baton with an eagle's claw at either end; behind the shield are eight lightning bolts. The design on the shield is derived from the Seal of the Department of the Air Force. The ribbon of the Air Force Commendation Medal is golden yellow with blue edges. In the center are three bands of blue, the outer stripes are thin with the center stripe being wider.
The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States other than General Officers who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army after 6 December 1941, distinguished themselves by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service. The medal may be awarded to a member of the Armed Forces of a friendly foreign nation who, after 1 June 1962, distinguishes themselves by an act of heroism, extraordinary achievement, or significant meritorious service which has been of mutual benefit to the friendly nation and the United States.
The medallion of the Army Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagon, 1 3/8 inches wide. On the medallion is an American bald eagle with wings spread horizontally, grasping in its talons three crossed arrows. On its breast is a shield paly of thirteen pieces and a chief. The reverse bears a panel for naming between the words FOR MILITARY above and MERIT below, all placed above a laurel sprig. The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide primarily of Myrtle green. It is edged in white and in the center are five thin white stripes spaced equally apart.
The last Commendation Medal to be created (in 1963) is the Joint Service Commendation Medal. This award is intended for senior service on a joint military staff, and is senior in precedence to the service-specific Commendation Medals. As such, it is worn above the service Commendation Medals on a military uniform. As a joint award, multiple awards are denoted with an oak leaf cluster regardless of service. 
After the First World War, the Department of the Navy authorized the Navy Commendation Star as an attachment to the World War I Victory Medal. The star was identical to the Silver Citation Star, but not comparable, as the later recognized heroic combat actions, while the Navy Commendation Star denoted those who had been cited for meritorious achievement by the Secretary of the Navy.
An independent Navy Commendation Ribbon was established in November 1943, designated as the Navy Commendation Medal in September 1960, and renamed the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in 1994, this decoration is awarded by operational commanders, requiring the signature of an admiral or general officer in the grade of O-7. This allows for interpretation of the criteria for which the medal may be awarded.
For instance, in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal is considered a somewhat high decoration reserved for Department Head level officers at the O-4 level, senior Navy CPOs and senior Marine Corps NCOs at the E-8 and E-9 level and, following a full career, as a retirement award. In contrast, the awarding of the Army Commendation Medal in the U.S. Army and the Air Force Commendation Medal in the U.S. Air Force is not limited to senior service members, and can be awarded to junior NCOs in the grade of E-6 and below and junior officers in the grade O-3 and below.
The U.S. Marine Corps has always been issued the Navy's commendation medal and there is not a separate commendation medal intended only for Marines. This lack of difference was recognized on 19 August 1994 when Secretary of the Navy John Howard Dalton changed the name of the Navy Commendation Medal to the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
The U.S. Coast Guard awards a separate Coast Guard Commendation Medal, with a ribbon similar in design to that of its Navy and Marine Corps counterpart. Initially established as the Coast Guard Commendation Ribbon in 1947, it was redesignated as the Coast Guard Commendation Medal in 1959. Criteria for its award has paralleled that of the Navy and Marine Corps.
- Awards and decorations of the United States government
- Awards and decorations of the United States military
- Awards and decorations of the United States Coast Guard
- United States military award devices
- Air Force Commendation Medal
- Air Force Instruction 36-2803 The Air Force Military Awards and Decorations Program. United States Air Force. 18 December 2013. pp. 88–90. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
- "Army Commendation Medal". The Institute of Heraldry. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
- "Joint Service Commendation Medal". The Institute of Heraldry. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
- Joint Service Commendation Medal, US Air Force Personnel Center. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
- SECNAVINST 1650.1H 2006 2-31
- Foster, Frank C. (2002). A complete guide to all United States military medals, 1939 to present. Fountain Inn, SC: MOA Press. ISBN 1-884-45218-3. OCLC 54755134.
- Kerrigan, Evans E. (1971). American war medals and decorations. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-12101-0. OCLC 128058. reprinted 1990, ISBN 0-792-45082-5 OCLC 21467942
- Robles, Philip K. (1971). United States military medals and ribbons. Rutland, VT: C. E. Tuttle. ISBN 0-804-80048-0. OCLC 199721.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Commendation Medals.|
- US Army Institute of Heraldry: Army Commendation Medal
- Department of the Army, DoD Army Commendation Medal 578.20
- US Army Institute of Heraldry: Joint Service Commendation Medal
- HRC Joint Awards FAQ