good conduct medal
General Military Questions

Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon Explained For All 5 Branches

The Good Conduct Medal, as the name implies, indicates a measure of behavior, attitude, and conduct that is desired by the Armed Forces.

As such, members of the various service branches are eligible for the military award.

The Good Conduct Medal has an incredible tradition considering the origins of the award date back to 1869.

Learn more about the Good Conduct Medal including its history, requirements, and various ribbons that are awarded based on the military branch.

Related Article20 Air Force Ribbons Explained

Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon Explained

Impressively, the Good Conduct Medal is one of the oldest military awards in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Navy version of the award dates back to the late 19th century.

Today, every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces awards a type of ribbon for the accomplishment.

The Good Conduct Medal designates 3 consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service” (see Eligibility, below).

The color pattern and appearance of the service ribbon varies depending on the military branch.

Learn more about the rich history of this military decoration:


The Good Conduct Medal was first established by the United States Navy in 1869.

Accordingly, it’s one of the oldest military awards in any service branch.

Today, every military branch presents some version of the award outside the recently created U.S. Space Force.

The United States Marine Corps was the next service branch to establish an award in 1896.

Then, the U.S. Coast Guard created its version in 1923.

Next, the United States Army followed in 1941 followed by the Air Force in 1963.

It’s worth mentioning that the Air Force variant was briefly discontinued from 2006 to 2009.

Nevertheless, the Air Force version has since been reinstated and adheres to the same eligibility requirements.


The criteria for a Good Conduct Medal is, unlike some military awards, universal across all service branches.

Therefore, the rules that the U.S. Army follows are the same as the Marine Corps and Navy.

The eligibility requirements for the Good Conduct Medal were established by Executive Order 8809 and have been since amended.

In short, the military accomplishment is currently awarded to any active duty enlisted service member who completes 3 consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service.”

The definition of “honorable and faithful” service includes:

  • A standard enlistment completed without any non-judicial punishment;
  • Disciplinary infractions; or
  • Court martial offenses

Presently, military personnel in the following service branches are eligible for the award:

  • U.S. Army
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard
  • Marine Corps
  • U.S. Navy

Those who become disqualified because they are facing a judicial punishment or disciplinary infraction may have their service time “reset.”

In other words, the service member can become eligible for the Good Conduct Medal by fulfilling 3 consecutive years of service after the point of the sanction.

Additionally, the time necessary to complete “good conduct” service during times of war reduces the length of time required to 1 year.

Moreover, the Good Conduct Medal is eligible to be awarded posthumously to a surviving relative or spouse.

Related ArticleOverseas Service Ribbon Explained For All 6 Military Branches

Army Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon

army good conduct medal ribbon

The Army Good Conduct Medal has a long and glorious history even if the award is far from the oldest on the list.

The Army variant dates back to 1941 and follows the same criteria as the other military branches for eligibility.

It’s also presented to soldiers with less than 1 year of service but discharged because of an injury sustained in the line of duty.

The same rules apply to any soldier that perished during service.

The U.S. Army defines the Good Conduct Medal as an award for “exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity.”

Meanwhile, the service ribbon (like the medal) that accompanies the award is different in appearance from other service branches.

The ribbon is distinct in the red and white stripe pattern while the medal features an eagle, among other intricate details.

Finally, the “loops” or “hitches” on the ribbon designate subsequent awards.

Army Reserve Component Awards

Army Reserve Component good conduct ribbon

In general, the Good Conduct Medal is only presented to active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

However, there are exceptions for 1) Army National Guard or 2) Army Air National Guard that complete sufficient active service by mobilization.

However, the restriction does not apply to full-time active-duty enlisted members of the Army Reserve, including those of AGR status.

The same eligibility applies to select Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Reserve personnel.

For the most part, Reserve components feature their own awards for good conduct and other exemplary behavior.

Air Force Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon

air force good conduct medal ribbon

The U.S. Air Force is the last service branch that has adopted its own form of the Good Conduct Award.

In the past, Air Force personnel were generally presented with the Army version of the award.

However, today, the service ribbon resembles nothing like the one authorized for Army personnel.

Be that as it may, the medals are nearly identical, which has contributed to the confusion regarding which award represents which service branch.

The Air Force presents additional awards with bronze or silver oak leaf clusters, like other USAF military decorations.

Despite being embraced in the 1960s, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal was briefly suspended in 2006.

The rationale for this departure from the award was that this type of “good conduct” should not be awarded, but demanded from airmen.

Presently, the award has been reinstated and is also retroactive to those ignored following the few years of elimination.

Additionally, the Air Force currently shares its award with Space Force, which has applied for its own variant but has yet to be approved.

Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon

coast guard good conduct medal ribbon

The United States Coast Guard created its own version of the award in 1921.

Nevertheless, it was not officially recognized until 1923.

Originally, the military medal and ribbon featured enlistment bars as attachments.

However, the Coast Guard has since abandoned this approach to the service ribbon.

Interestingly enough, the service branch originally had more strict requirements regarding eligibility (4 years instead of 3 years) but reduced the criteria in 1983.

The Coast Guard acknowledges additional decorations with bronze and silver 3/16″ service stars.

The Coast Guard Good Conduct Ribbon is among the more basic in appearance, primarily in red with a white stripe down the middle.

Related Article16 Coast Guard Ribbons Explained

Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon

marine corps good conduct medal ribbon

The Marine Corps was the second military branch to create a Good Conduct Medal.

It was established in 1896, not that long after the U.S. Navy became the first branch to recognize good conduct.

Originally, the Marine Corps variant featured a ribbon and medal suspended from a clasp with the words: U.S. Marine Corps.

Today, the clasp has been eliminated yet the medal remains unchanged in appearance.

The original military decoration was among the most personal as each name was engraved by hand on the reverse side of the medal.

Then, stamping replaced the hand engraving process approximately around the beginning of World War II.

The Marine Corps, like the Coast Guard, initially required a longer length of duty (4 years) before the award was offered to Marines.

Nonetheless, since 1945, the period of time has reflected the mandatory length (3 years) of all the other service branches.

Furthermore, the Marine Corps also abandoned the enlistment bars for bronze and silver stars, beginning in 1953.

Related Article12 US Marine Corps Ribbons Explained

Navy Good Conduct Medal & Ribbon

navy good conduct medal ribbon

The Navy Good Conduct Medal is the original award.

Impressively, the military award dates back to 1869.

Therefore, it’s easily one of the oldest military decorations awarded to personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal has survived multiple versions due to its long, extraordinary history.

The original medal was not presented on the service uniform.

Rather, it was awarded as part of the discharge from the service branch, or upon reenlistment.

Then, the Navy Good Conduct Medal started to appear on the uniform in 1880.

The next version lasted for nearly a century and contained the traditional all-red ribbon present with the current version.

However, the enlistment bars were eliminated in the 1950s as a preference for the current bronze and silver service stars.

Remarkably, the actual medal remains unchanged since its adoption in 1884 (aside from the ring suspension of the ribbon).

Moreover, like the Coast Guard and Marine Corps, the mandatory length of time was originally longer.

Today, the Navy Good Conduct Medal exists as one of the most noteworthy awards in the history of the Armed Forces.

Related Article15 US Navy Ribbons Explained


The Good Conduct Medal is an important military distinction.

It acknowledges service branches that have dedicated “honorable and faithful service” to the U.S. Armed Forces.

As such, the Good Conduct Medal acknowledges those who have remained free of judicial or disciplinary action while serving in the military.

The Good Conduct Medal is accompanied by a service ribbon specific to each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

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The Good Conduct Medal is awarded to military personnel for "honorable and faithful service" designated by a unique service ribbon.
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