When you see the left side of a soldier’s uniform, there are colorful badges, medals, ribbons, and insignia. Have you ever wondered what the meaning behind each of these colorfully decorated objects is?

All military badges, medals, and thin ribbons are known as military decorations; however, each type has special meanings and is a show of symbolism to the work or skill accomplished by soldiers. 

From bravery to marksmanship to serving; there are medals and ribbons given to help military members understand their experience, contributions, and how they display their particular position and rank proudly displayed on their uniforms. Having these ribbons and medals are truly an honor in themselves when earned.

Medals vs. Ribbons

Medals are awarded for good deeds, participation in specific campaigns or expeditions, or non-combat services and are usually round in shape. Decorations are awarded for brave deeds and meritorious service, generally in distinctive (and often unique) shapes such as crosses and stars.

A medal ribbon, ribbon bar, or service ribbon is a thin ribbon attached to a mini metal bar with a zipper. It replaces a medal when it is not appropriate to wear it.

The difference between a ribbon and a medal is purely technical. Ribbons are worn on everyday uniforms, and medals are reserved for formal occasions. Both point to the same award.

The three highest-ranked military medals are awarded outstanding service on the battlefield. The lowest-ranked (but significant) medals are awarded for both medals and non-combat exceptionalism of the service branch to which it is assigned.

There are different types of military medals. Some are presented only to officers, some are presented solely to enlisted members, and some are awarded based on performance or courage. Below is a list of some of the highest-ranked military medals and ribbons awarded for outstanding combat performance beyond the highest service and duty requirements.

Military Medals

These are two types of medals; one is standard, and the other is small. 

The miniature medal is a full-size half scale and is worn not only on casual dresses but also on all formal dresses and evening uniforms on the wearer’s left chest. Life-sized medals are worn on uniforms and clothing on the left chest. 

Miniature medals and full-sized medals have the same priority, but small medals allow you to use multiple medals per row, usually 4-6 medals per row. Each branch of the army has different specifications for life-sized medals and miniature medals.

Military Ribbons

The ribbons come in various sizes: traditional sliding ribbons, miniature ribbons, and mild, thin ribbons. There are ribbons for all military medals, service-specific, and displayed with specific protocols and regulations.

Combat action ribbons and international service ribbons stand out because they don’t have corresponding medals and are only shown with other ribbons. Each set of military ribbon always conforms to military specifications and has time and place to wear.

The Mini Ribbon is a smaller version of the sliding ribbon, but it cannot be worn on uniforms. It can be worn on civilian clothing such as work polo shirts and weekend family barbecues. They are a popular choice for wearing hats, cuff blazer, and polo shirts at work when going out for dinner to show pride in your service.

The Mil thin Ribbons is a type of American medal trademark ribbon. The very thin ribbon mounts like a sturdy rack are perfectly flat, is worn on uniforms, and always meets military specifications. 

With a better understanding of military medals, ribbons, and even military decorations, military achievements have a whole new meaning for those who have never set foot in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and Space Force.

Seeing a decorated serviceman or servicewoman immediately gives a feeling of pride for them. It is a decoration of the freedoms we have because of what soldiers do. 


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