How to wear military medals and ribbons

Updated February 21, 2017

Military ribbons and medals are symbols of accomplishments that servicemen and -women have earned. Those who earn these honours wear them with pride on their uniforms, but there are regulations as to how they may be worn.

Verify that you qualify to wear the medals and ribbons in question. If you are on active duty, a reservist or National Guard member, check with your branch's military personnel unit for verification of qualification. For the Air Force, members can look on the Virtual MPF website to see what they are qualified to wear.

Retired and separated members should check what's listed on their DD 214s, the military discharge form. They are allowed to wear medals and ribbons in special circumstances such as military funerals.

Ensure that all ribbons and medals are serviceable. They should be free of rips, holes, stains or tears. Medals should be clean and have no broken parts.

Mount all ribbons on the ribbon rack in order of precedence, with the highest-level ribbon on the upper left spot on the rack. Medals are worn in order of precedence from left to right. Branch-specific uniform shops on military installations carry current order of precedence guidelines.

Consider the branch's uniform regulations to see which uniforms can display ribbons and medals. The Air Force, for example, does not allow ribbons to be worn on utility uniforms or all-weather outer garments. Military service branches typically allow medals and ribbons to be worn on full-service dress or formal uniforms. Medals are sometimes worn on battle dress uniforms if the member is receiving it during a ceremony.

Use the service branch's uniform guidelines for specific placement. Ribbons and medals are placed on the wearer's left breast. For instance, the Air Force instruction states that ribbons worn on a service dress shirt are placed with the bottom rack resting on but not over the left pocket's welt. Full-size and miniature-size medals cannot be mixed.


Unauthorised wear of medals and ribbons is a federal misdemeanour, according to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.

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About the Author

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.