Combat Action Ribbon

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Combat Action Ribbon
Combat Action Ribbon.svg

USCG Combat Action Ribbon.png
Top: U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps
Bottom: U.S. Coast Guard
Awarded by United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
United States Coast Guard
Type Ribbon (Decoration)
Eligibility Satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or maritime engagement.
Awarded for Active participation in ground or surface combat on or after December 7, 1941.
Status Current issue
Established Department of the Navy -
February 17, 1969
Department of Homeland Security - July 16, 2008
Next (higher) Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
Coast Guard Commandant's Letter of Commendation
Equivalent Air Force Combat Action Medal
Related The Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat Medical Badge, and Combat Action Badge.

The Combat Action Ribbon (colloquially "CAR") is a significant and highly valued service ribbon awarded by the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and United States Coast Guard for "satisfactory performance" under enemy fire in ground and surface/maritime combat. The Combat Action Ribbon is an individual award; i.e., it is not awarded to an entire unit, station, or group. This is a ribbon-only award, there is no medal. (Private companies sell what is sometimes called a "commemorative combat action medal" stylized from various military combat action awards. Such medallions are not authorized for wear on a military member's uniform.)

The CAR is worn in order of precedence on a member's "ribbon rack" on the left side of the member's uniform. Only one Combat Action Ribbon is authorized for wear. Additional combat action awards are signified with appropriate star device attached to the member's Combat Action Ribbon (e.g. three small bronze colored stars to signify three additional CAR awards).

The Combat Action Ribbon is currently authorized in two versions: U.S. Navy, and U.S. Coast Guard:

U.S. Navy Version: Eligibility for members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and up to 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard. The Navy version covers the Navy-Marine Corps when the CAR was established in 1969, and made retroactive from December 7, 1941 forward). Prior to 2008, U.S. Coast Guard members who were awarded the Combat Action received the Navy CAR, this because in most conflicts and wars Coast Guard members eligible for the CAR were working with or under the U.S. Navy. As of 2009 Coast Guard members in combat now receive the Coast Guard's version of the award.

U.S. Coast Guard Version: In 2009 the U.S. Coast Guard began awarding its own-designed Combat Action Ribbon, a ribbon that looks similar to the Navy Combat Action Ribbon. Prior to 2008 Coast Guard members earning a Combat Action Ribbon received the U.S. Navy CAR, this because USCG members in conflicts or wars typically operated with or under the U.S. Navy. For example, in the Vietnam War's Operation Market Time, the U.S. Coast Guard had at any one time approximately 1,200 service members participating in that major U.S. Operation. Those Coast Guard members who engaged in Vietnam combat action were awarded the U.S. Navy Combat Action Ribbon.

With its own Combat Action Ribbon, USCG members will now receive the Coast Guard CAR regardless if a member is operating in conjunction with or under the control of the U.S. Navy. Those members who received Navy CAR's are authorized to and will continue wearing the Navy award despite the availability of the USCG Combat Action Ribbon; i.e., a USCG member's Navy CAR will not "convert" to a USCG CAR, it will remain a Navy award.

Navy Combat Action Ribbon[edit]

The Navy Combat Action Ribbon ("CAR") was established during the Vietnam War by a Secretary of the Navy Notice, dated February 17, 1969 with retroactive award to March 1, 1961.[1] The CAR (Navy/Marine Corps version) is awarded to members of the Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard (when operating under the control of the Navy) personnel with the grade of captain/colonel and below, who have actively participated in ground or surface combat.

Sailors and Marines in clandestine or special operations where their ability to return fire is curtailed may be deemed eligible.[1] Personnel who earn the Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Badge, or Combat Action Medal while assigned to United States Army or United States Air Force units, or who earned such for prior service in said service branch's may be authorized to wear the Combat Action Ribbon upon application to the Department of the Navy.[2]

In Jan 2013 the awarding criteria was expanded to include dangerous exposure to IEDs, mines, and scatterable munitions, be it the detonation of such or direct action taken to disable, render safe, or destroy such, can be deemed eligible if detonated or specifically emplaced by the enemy. Previously it applied only to exposure to IEDs detonated by the enemy. Eligibility under this criterion is retroactive only to 7 October 2001.[2]

Blanket lists of units and operations whose members or participants are deemed to be "in-combat", and thus potentially eligible, can be found in OPNAVNOTE 1650 (for specific units & ships) & in chapter 2, appendix E of recent SECNAVINST's (for specific operations & ships) though "Neither service in a combat area nor being awarded the Purple Heart Medal automatically makes a service member eligible" and specific sailors and marines may receive the ribbon in recognition of individual actions or various minor operations.[1]

Additional awards of the CAR (Navy/Marine Corps version) are denoted by 516 inch gold/silver stars on the ribbon.

World War II and Korean War

In October 1999, World War II and Korean War veterans became retroactively eligible for the Navy Combat Action Ribbon by Public Law 106-65 on Oct. 5, 1999, which permitted the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) to award the Combat Action Ribbon to a member of the Navy or Marine Corps for participation in ground or surface combat during any period on or after December 7, 1941, and or before March 1, 1961, if the Secretary determines that the member has not been previously recognized in an appropriate manner for such participation.[3] Two specific blocks of time were later designated by then SECNAV Danzig: Dec. 7, 1941—Apr. 14, 1946 (World War II) & June 25, 1950—July 27, 1954 (Korean War)[4]

Award inquiries

Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard veterans are advised to submit eligibility requests etc. to each of their respective branches in regard to the Navy Combat Action Ribbon or additional awards of this award.

Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon[edit]

The Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon (CGCAR) was established by the approval of the Secretary of Homeland Security on July 16, 2008 in ALCOAST 361/08. The Coast Guard version of the CAR is awarded to members of the Coast Guard who have actively participated in a ground or maritime engagement. Satisfactory performance under fire with the enemy is required.

Criteria for the CGCAR also include personnel with direct exposure to the detonation of an improvised explosive device used by an enemy, and for personnel who serve in clandestine/special operations, who are restricted in their ability to return fire, where the risk of enemy fire was great.

The Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon is authorized for:[5]

  • Operation Allied Force (Kosovo)
  • Operation Desert Storm
  • Operation Enduring Freedom
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom

Other minor operations and specific actions are authorized the ribbon as determined by the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Only one award per operation is authorized.

Initially, all other similar military awards from other services were required to be converted to the Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon in order to be worn on the Coast Guard uniform, but the policy was modified effective January 1, 2009 to allow wearing the Navy Combat Action Ribbon, Air Force Combat Action Medal, and Army Combat Infantry/Medical/Action Badge for service prior to May 1, 1975 and cannot be converted to the Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon.[5][6]

Additional awards of the Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon are denoted by 516 inch gold/silver stars on the ribbon.

Stolen Valor Act[edit]

The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a federal crime for an individual who, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds himself or herself out to be a recipient of the Medal of Honor and decorations, medals, and badges listed in the law, including the Combat Action Ribbon (the act defines CAR as a "combat badge").[7] The act also includes the CAR for any other violation concerning all military decorations, medals, or badges which is subject to a heightened penalty of "a fine, imprisonment of up to one year, or both" (except when authorized under regulation made pursuant to law).[8]

Notable recipients[edit]


Marine Corps[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1986 movie Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood's character, Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, wears the Combat Action Ribbon on his dress blue uniform.
  • In the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character, Colonel Nathan Jessup, wears the Combat Action Ribbon on his service dress uniform.


  1. ^ a b c SECNAVINST 1650.1H
  2. ^ a b "MARADMIN 038/13". Archived from the original on January 31, 2016. 
  3. ^ Pub.L. 106–65 Oct. 5, 1999, STAT.588, G, Sec.564, "Retroactive Award of the Navy Combat Action Ribbon"
  4. ^ DOD Press Release, March 21, 2000, Retroactive Combat Action Ribbon [1] Retrieved May 13, 2015
  5. ^ a b Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon @ Foxfall medals [2] Retrieved May 13, 2015[better source needed]
  6. ^ Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon – Official Coast Guard All Hands blog[dead link]
  7. ^, Summary H.R.258-Stolen Valor Act of 2013 [3] Retrieved May 16, 2015
  8. ^ Stolen Valor Act of 2013, Pub.L. 113–12, Amended 18 U.S.C. § 704(1994)