coast guard ribbons
Coast Guard

16 Coast Guard Ribbons Explained

There are many interesting aspects of a U.S. Coast Guard uniform, including the ribbons attached to it.

Service ribbons often replace the actual medal when it’s not practical to wear it directly on the uniform.

As a result, USCG ribbons offer a quick and resourceful guide to the experience, accomplishments, and reputation of the service member.

Learn more about the 16 most important U.S. Coast Guard ribbons.

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16 Coast Guard Ribbons Explained

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) presents service medals and ribbons to its personnel, just like every other branch of the Armed Forces.

For this reason, Coast Guard ribbons provide a quick reference to the merit and achievement of guardsmen.

There are a few important aspects to keep in mind regarding USCG ribbons:

  • Not all Coast Guard ribbons have a corresponding medal.
  • USCG ribbons are always worn in a specific order of precedence.
  • Service ribbons sometimes include attachment devices, which recognize a variety of purposes and/or additional awards.

USCG ribbons are straightforward outside their appearance, with each ribbon featuring a different color pattern.

Learn more about the 16 most important U.S. Coast Guard ribbons:

#1. Coast Guard Cross

Coast Guard Cross ribbon
  • Established: 2010
  • Design: Dark Blue / Blue / Red

The U.S. Coast Guard awards a variety of service ribbons to guardsmen.

However, none is more important than the Coast Guard Cross Ribbon (CGC).

The Coast Guard Cross Ribbon is the second highest military decoration in the service branch, only behind the Medal of Honor.

Therefore, service members who earn the distinction are highly esteemed.

The Coast Guard Cross is presented to guardsmen who distinguish themselves through “extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force.”

The Coast Guard Cross actually hasn’t been in existence for long (created in October 2010), despite the high ranking. 

Since then, however, the Coast Guard Cross is the highest military decoration awarded in the branch.

Today, it’s considered the equivalent of the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross.

The United States Air Force also has a similar military decoration, known as the Air Force Cross.

The award, like every USCG ribbon, features its own unique color design and pattern.

#2. USCG Distinguished Service Ribbon

USCG Distinguished Service Ribbon
  • Established: 1949
  • Design: Purple / Grey / Blue

The Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal (CGDSM) and accompanying ribbon precede the Coast Guard Cross by more than a half-century.

Impressively, the military ribbon has origins that date back to the same decade as World War II.

As a result, the Distinguished Service Medal and ribbon are among the highest designated honors in the military.

The USCG presents the CGDSM medal and ribbon for “exceptionally meritorious service to the government in a duty of great responsibility.”

Moreover, “devices” attached to the service ribbon – like 5/16″ gold stars designate additional awards.

The Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal has an equivalent in every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Air Force, Navy, and Army.

Therefore, it’s important to identify the USCG ribbon due to its importance on the service uniform.

#3. Coast Guard Medal

coast guard medal ribbon
  • Established: 1949
  • Design: Light Blue / White / Red

The Coast Guard Ribbon is another important military decoration.

It’s a specific award provided to any service member who displays acts of heroism while not directly involved in actual conflict with the enemy.

The primary condition is that the act of heroism occurs in any capacity serving the U.S. Coast Guard.

In general, the eligible conduct acceptable for being “heroic” is quite extensive.

Nevertheless, it usually implies “voluntary acts of heroism in the face of great personal danger or such a magnitude that it exceeds normal expectations.”

The Coast Guard Ribbon, like the Distinguished Service Medal, has a long history.

It was first presented to Coasties in the late 1950s.

The U.S. Air and Space Forces, Navy, and Army all have comparable awards for this military decoration (i.e. Army Soldier’s Medal).

Finally, service members earn additional designations with 5/16″ gold stars displayed directly on the ribbon.

Related ArticleUS Navy Ribbons Explained

#4. Coast Guard Commendation Medal

Coast Guard Commendation ribbon
  • Established: 1947
  • Design: Green / White

The Commendation Medal is another military distinction that has deep roots, beginning near the end of WWII.

As such, recipients take pride and respect in earning this military decoration.

The Coast Guard offers its own version of this award, which is considered a mid-level accomplishment for the sake of comparing military distinctions.

In general, the Coast Guard Commendation ribbon accompanies a medal granted for “sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.”

The USCG version, like all service branches, features its own ribbon design.

Notwithstanding, the USCG variant is oddly similar to the Marine and Navy ribbons.

There is a fifth version of the military award presented by the Department of Defense for joint military service.

Lastly, multiple designations are indicated by the various devices that may be attached to the ribbon.

These include the Operational Distinguishing Device (“O” device) and Combat (“V” device).

#5. Coast Guard Achievement Medal Ribbon

Coast Guard Achievement Medal ribbon
  • Established: 1963
  • Design: Green / Red / White

The Achievement Medal is another military decoration shared by multiple service branches of the Armed Forces.

Accordingly, the Coast Guard version has an equivalent in every military branch including the recently conceived U.S. Space Force.

The Coast Guard Achievement Medal was established in 1963 and recognizes “outstanding achievement or meritorious service.”

Generally, the military achievement award is presented to service members who do not qualify for the USCG Commendation Medal & Ribbon.

The Coast Guard Achievement Ribbon is the final award granted for personal achievement or decorations (aside from Marksmanship, below).

#6. Commandant’s Letter of Commendation

Commandant's Letter of Commendation ribbon
  • Established: 1979
  • Design: Green / Black / Yellow / Light Blue / Blue

The Commandant’s Letter of Commendation Ribbon is exclusive to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Accordingly, guardsmen who receive a Letter of Commendation from the Commandant of the USCG are authorized to display the ribbon.

The Commandant’s Letter of Commendation Ribbon has been in existence since 1979 but is retroactive to August 12, 1921.

For this reason, military families can also seek the military designation post-humously.

The service ribbon, like most USCG ribbons, features gold stars to indicate multiple awards.

It ranks directly below the Coast Guard Achievement Medal in order of precedence on the ribbon holder.

#7. USCG Unit / Team Awards

Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon
An example of a unit ribbon, the Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon. Image:
  • Established: 1957 – 1993
  • Design: Varies

Coast Guard ribbons are not just reserved for individual success and achievement.

Additionally, military awards are presented to Coast Guard units or team members.

These USCG ribbons include:

  • Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon
  • Coast Guard Unit Commendation Ribbon
  • USCG Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon
  • Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation Ribbon

The presentation of each USCG unit ribbon depends on the military decoration.

Traditionally, most of these service ribbons were established between the late 50s and 1990s.

As such, you can find additional eligibility requirements based on the type of ribbon desired.

In general, USCG ribbons are offered to units for the same reason they are awarded to individual service members.

Consequently, it usually involves some type of heroic or important military distinction.

#8. Coast Guard “E” Ribbon

Coast Guard E Ribbon
  • Established: 1990
  • Design: Yellow / White / Blue

The Coast Guard E Ribbon is a recent adoption of the United States Coast Guard.

The service ribbon was created in 1990 but serves an important distinction.

USCG officers and crew of any Coast Guard cutter are eligible for this service ribbon.

It’s awarded to eligible members who earn the Operational Excellence Award during annual refresher training.

The military ribbon designates additional achievements with gold stars.

#9. Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal

Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal ribbon
  • Established: 1923
  • Design: Red / White

Interestingly enough, the Good Conduct Medal is one of the oldest awards in military service.

As such, the service ribbon has an incredible history that dates back to the 19th century.

The Good Conduct Medal was initially established in 1869 by the U.S. Navy.

Later, the Coast Guard adopted its own version in 1921.

The USCG ribbon actually presides over the variants offered by the U.S. Army (1941) and Air Force (1963).

Currently, the Coast Guard Good Conduct Ribbon is presented to active duty guardsmen who complete 3 consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service.”

In general, the type of service merits avoidance of judicial punishment or disciplinary infractions.

Consequently, court-martial offenses also fall under potential conflicts.

Nevertheless, even those with previous disciplinary actions can “reset” their good conduct.

Therefore, completing any 3 consecutive years of good conduct services designates an award.

Moreover, eligibility for the Good Conduct Medal and Ribbon is sometimes adjusted during times of war (only 1 year of service is required).

It’s also presented posthumously to qualifying guardsmen.

Lastly, the service branch provides a separate ribbon for recipients of the award serving under the Coast Guard Reserve component.

#10. Coast Guard Lifesaving Ribbons

gold Coast Guard Life Saving Ribbon

silver Coast Guard Life Saving Ribbon
Images: Gold Lifesaving Device (Top), Silver Lifesaving Device (Bottom)
  • Established: 1874
  • Design: Red / White / Yellow (Gold) and Blue / White / Grey (Silver)

Coast Guard Lifesaving Ribbons are unique to the military branch.

They feature an extraordinary history with origins dating to the late 19th century.

USCG Life Saving Ribbons are divided into 2 types:

  • Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medal and Ribbon
  • Coast Guard Silver Lifesaving Medal and Ribbon

Both military decorations are awarded by the U.S. Coast Guard.

They continue to be awarded, serving as some of the oldest military awards in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Despite the long history, less than 1,000 guardsmen have earned a Gold Lifesaving Medal.

The number of recipients is slightly higher for Silver Lifesaving Medals yet fewer ribbons have been awarded in recent years.

In the past, recipients often included guardsmen who rescued a person from drowning, shipwreck, or “other perils of the water.”

The military award is determined in two grades, with the requirements for “gold” being more strict.

For example, the gold standard stipulates the rescuer must make the attempt while risking his or her own life and demonstrating “extreme and heroic daring” actions.

Coast Guard Lifesaving Ribbons may also be granted to civilians since the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security.

Related Article12 US Marine Corps Ribbons Explained

#11. Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year

Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year ribbon
  • Established: 1999
  • Design: White / Blue / Red

The Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon (EPOY) is exclusive to the Coast Guard.

It functions as an annual award presented to eligible service members.

The USCG established the Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon in 1999.

However, it’s also retroactive to 1994, by order of the Commandant of the Coast Guard.

The competition is fierce considering that the Coast Guard only awards two ribbons each year.

The USCG ribbon is available to guardsmen within the military ranks of E-2 through E-6.

Moreover, the military branch also presents an additional award for the Coast Guard Reserve Enlisted Person of the Year (REPOY).

In general, eligible contestants display dedication and professionalism to the core values of the Coast Guard.

The EPOY and REPOY are one-time awards, so you’ll find no devices authorized to appear on the ribbon.

#12. Coast Guard Special Operations Ribbons

Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon
  • Established: 1984 and 1987
  • Design: Varies

Additionally, several military ribbons exist for personnel assigned special duty while functioning in the capacity of the Coast Guard.

These service ribbons include:

  • Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon
  • Coast Guard Restricted Duty Ribbon

Special Operations service ribbons exist to acknowledge the unique sacrifice and dedication these operatives provide to the service branch.

As such, the Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon was created to acknowledge this commitment to military service in 1987.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard Restricted Duty Ribbon acknowledges eligible service members in a similar capacity.

There are several eligibility requirements for both military awards.

Additionally, the guidelines have been modified, now allowing multiple achievements designated by service stars.

#13. Coast Guard Overseas Ribbons

Coast Guard Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Established: 2009
  • Design: Light Blue / Blue / Yellow / Red

The Coast Guard, like other service branches, values the sacrifice guardsmen make serving the country overseas.

Accordingly, there are a few different military ribbons dedicated precisely to this type of service:

  • Coast Guard Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Coast Guard Arctic Service Ribbon
  • USCG Sea Service Military Ribbon

The Coast Guard Overseas Service Ribbon was established recently in 2009.

It recognizes guardsmen who have performed military tours outside U.S. borders for a specified period of time.

Accordingly, these types of ribbons also exist in other service branches.

Generally, active duty service members with a permanent assignment of 12 months or more overseas are authorized to wear the Overseas Service Ribbon. 

Furthermore, USCG ribbons are granted based on a specific assignment (Sea Service Military Ribbon) or location (Coast Guard Arctic Military Ribbon).

#14. Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon
  • Established: 1984
  • Design: White / Blue / Red / Yellow

It’s common for service branches to represent the completion of basic training with some type of ribbon.

Therefore, the USCG acknowledges honor graduates with a unique ribbon.

The Coast Guard Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon has been in existence since 1984.

The Coast Guard presents this ribbon to the highest-achieving recruits at Basic Training.

Today, the Coast Guard awards this ribbon retroactively to eligible graduates.

#15. USCG Recruiting Service Military Ribbon

USCG Recruiting Service Military Ribbon
  • Established: 1995
  • Design: Yellow / Blue / Green / White / Red

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for a military branch to recognize individuals who serve in a recruiting capacity.

Military recruiters provide a unique function to a service branch and allow enlisted numbers to maintain the necessary quota.

As such, the USCG grants a Recruiting Service Military Ribbon to eligible personnel.

The Coast Guard ribbon is a relatively new invention, established in 1995.

However, the service ribbon is retroactive to 1980.

The USCG Recruiting Military Ribbon features service stars for additional accomplishments.

#16. Coast Guard Marksmanship Awards

coast guard pistol expert marksman ribbon

coast guard expert rifleman ribbon
Images: Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon (Top), Expert Rifleman Ribbon (Bottom)
  • Established: N/A
  • Design: Blue / White (displayed with Marksmanship Badge)

Finally, Coast Marksmanship Awards are extensive enough that they deserve their own consideration.

Nevertheless, the important implication is that the guardsman has become distinguished for marksmanship.

The Coast Guard conducts a weapons qualification course each year to gauge the marksmanship of participants.

Accordingly, a service ribbon is awarded to those who hit certain metrics.

Thus, the Coast Guard Rifle Marksmanship Military Ribbon joins one of the many badges a Coastie may earn for their marksmanship skills.

For example, the USCG offers a similar ribbon for those proficient in shooting a pistol.

Then, there is the Marksmanship Excellence-in-Competition Badge, another noteworthy military decoration.

Guardsmen may achieve multiple distinctions, leading to additional acknowledgments on the ribbon.

Related ArticleArmy Sharpshooter Badge: 6 Things To Know


The United States Coast Guard takes great pride in the presentation of its service uniform, like any military branch.

Accordingly, Coast Guard ribbons take a special place on the uniform as a representation of military accomplishments.

Coast Guard ribbons feature their own unique color pattern and design, indicating the type of achievement or heroic act.

Furthermore, the USCG may award ribbons or medals for certain types of specialties or duties within the service branch.

Rob V.
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USCG Ribbons

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U.S. Coast Guard ribbons recognize service achievements and acts of heroism, among other military distinctions. Discover 16 military ribbons.

Originally posted on 04/21/23

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