navy ribbons

15 US Navy Ribbons Explained

U.S. Navy ribbons encompass the extraordinary achievements and honorable service of military personnel.

As a result, those that understand military medals and service ribbons are able to determine how distinguished a sailor is based on insignia.

Navy ribbons accompany service uniforms and serve as a replacement when it’s not practical to don the full medal.

For this reason, one can quickly deduce the purpose of a ribbon based on its design, colors, and placement on the uniform.

Learn more about the 15 most common Navy ribbons, below.

Related Article12 USMC Ribbons Explained

15 Navy Ribbons Explained

The United States Navy has a long and proud tradition.

It’s easily the most respected navy in the world, and accordingly, sailors are rewarded for their accomplishments.

In general, the military recognizes honorable service and achievements through medals and service ribbons.

Navy ribbons are presented for various reasons and feature their own color design.

As a result, those that are knowledgeable about the various Navy ribbons can quickly identify the purpose based on the color pattern and placement on the uniform.

Navy ribbons are awarded for various accomplishments and are not just limited to those that serve in combat or in dangerous situations.

Interested? Learn more about 15 Navy ribbons, ranked in order of precedence, below:

#1. Navy Cross

ribbon for navy cross
  • Established: 1919
  • Design: Navy Blue / White
  • Classification: Navy & Marine Service Honor

In general, most people have heard of the Navy Cross, even if they are unfamiliar with military awards.

It ranks as the second highest achievement a sailor can receive, only behind the Medal of Honor.

The service branch awards the Navy Cross to sailors “who distinguish themselves for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force.”

As such, the Navy Cross medal and service ribbon are one of the few on the list reserved for those in combat situations.

The Navy Cross is granted by the Secretary of the Navy and is also awarded to Marines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, and Air Force each have their own equivalent of the Navy Cross.

The Navy Cross was introduced at the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I as a method to recognize heroic actions in combat.

The service ribbon that accompanies the medal consists of navy blue with a white stripe down the center of the ribbon.

It’s been noted that the blue represents naval service, while the white stripe alludes to the purity of selflessness.

Service members with gold or silver 5/16″ service stars have earned multiple distinctions.

A gold star represents each subsequent award, while a silver star denotes a 6th award.

Currently, the U.S. Navy has yet to report a sailor that has garnered more than 5 Navy Cross awards in a military career.

#2. Navy Distinguished Service Ribbon

Navy Distinguished Service Ribbon
  • Established: 1919
  • Design: Navy Blue / Yellow
  • Classification: Navy & Marine Service Honor

The Navy and Marine Distinguished Service Ribbon is among the many awards shared by both branches.

It’s not a huge surprise considering that the Marine Corps (USMC) operates under the umbrella of the United States Navy.

Therefore, both service branches utilize this service ribbon to acknowledge distinguished service.

It’s one of the older Navy ribbons, along with the Navy Cross, having first been introduced in 1919.

At that time, the only military achievement a sailor could earn was the Medal of Honor.

Consequently, the U.S. Navy established several other military awards, such as the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Navy and Marine Distinguished Service Ribbon is delivered along with a medal for “distinguished or exceptionally meritorious service.”

In general, the service must also take place “while serving in a duty or position of great responsibility.”

The term “great responsibility” implies senior military positions and thus is usually presented to high-ranking officials, such as Navy officers.

Interestingly enough, the military honor originally ranked higher than the Navy Cross, yet the order of precedence was reversed in 1942.

The colorful service ribbon compliments a bronze medallion.

Additionally, multiple distinctions are recognized by gold and silver 5/16″ stars placed on the ribbon.

NOTE: The U.S. Navy also awards the Presidential Unit Citation, a ribbon presented to military units of “distinguished service.”

#3. Navy & Marine Corps Ribbon

Navy & Marine Corps Ribbon
  • Established: 1942
  • Design: Navy Blue / Yellow / Red
  • Classification: Navy & Marine Service Honor

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism in the service branch.

The service ribbon has a long history that traces its roots back to World War II.

It’s also shared by the Marine Corps, whereas the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, and Air Force all feature their own equivalent of the military honor.

Accordingly, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal is presented to sailors that faced a “life-threatening risk.”

Navy ribbons like this one are divided into 3 equal colors: blue, yellow, and red.

Meanwhile, additional awards are demonstrated by the presentation of gold or silver service stars.

The service ribbon supports an octagonal bronze medal featuring an eagle holding a fouled anchor over a globe.

Related ArticleArmy Service Ribbon (ASR): 5 Things To Know

#4. Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Ribbon

Navy & Marine Corps Commendation ribbon
  • Established: 1943
  • Design: Green / White
  • Classification: Navy & Marine Service Honor

Next, the Navy and Marine Commendation Ribbon is designed to recognize sailors who do not qualify for one of the higher-ranking awards.

The purpose of the Commendation Ribbon is to acknowledge an “exceedingly heroic act, exceptional achievement, or commendable service.”

Furthermore, it’s also possible to receive military distinction while serving in active combat.

As such, sailors with a “V” device attached to the service ribbon have earned recognition while being in combat.

Meanwhile, subsequent awards are represented by silver and gold stars (also displayed on the ribbon).

The Navy Commendation Medal is considered a mid-level U.S. military decoration.

You’ll find that every branch of the Armed Forces awards some type of Commendation Medal.

However, the Navy version was the first to get introduced (along with the Coast Guard variant) in 1943.

The design of the Navy Commendation Ribbon features a combination of green and white vertical stripes.

The Navy also has a version of the service ribbon (Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon) presented to military units, as opposed to individual sailors.

Finally, multiple award recipients are designated with gold and silver 5/16″ stars.

#5. Navy Achievement Ribbon

Navy Achievement Ribbon
  • Established: 1961
  • Design: Green / Red
  • Classification: Navy & Marine Service Honor

The Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Ribbon is another important military decoration.

The service ribbon is shared by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, designed to recognize “outstanding achievement or meritorious service.”

In general, the service award is presented to sailors that may not qualify for the more prestigious Commendation Medal.

Per the norm, every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces has an equivalent, including the Department of Defense (DoD).

However, the Navy was the first service branch to produce its own version of the award in 1961.

Later, the title of the award was adjusted in 1994 to reflect the incorporation of the Marine Corps.

Typically, who determines the award is based on the discretion of local commanders.

The Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Ribbon is further distinguished by various devices, including the “V” device (for combat bravery).

However, the military branch stopped authorizing the Valor device for the Achievement Medal in 2016.

Related ArticleArmy Achievement Medal (AAM): 6 Things To Know

#6. Navy E-Ribbon

navy e ribbon
  • Established: 1974
  • Design: Gold / White / Blue
  • Classification: Battle Efficiency Ribbon

The Navy E-Ribbon, or Battle Efficiency Ribbon, has origins in the 1970s.

It was officially adopted by the Secretary of the Navy as a unit award dedicated to battle efficiency competition.

In the past, service members with the accomplishment were recognized by an “E” patch sewn on the right sleeve of the enlisted uniform.

However, that has since changed, as the Navy presents a service ribbon, instead.

The service ribbon is typically bestowed to enlisted sailors in the ranks E-1 through E-6.

Moreover, members of the Marine Corps assigned to a ship’s company are also eligible for the military decoration.

The E-Ribbon, unlike other Navy ribbons on the list, does not feature a corresponding medal.

Thus, sailors place the ribbon above the right breast pocket when donning a full dress uniform (where medals are typically worn).

On the other hand, when in a standard uniform, the ribbon exists above the left breast pocket (along with other military awards).

The U.S. Navy considers this award the equivalent of the Coast Guard E-Ribbon.

Lastly, the first 3 awards of the Navy E-Ribbon are denoted with silver 3/16″ E devices.

Meanwhile, a silver wreathed letter “E” replaces the E devices on the ribbon after a 4th award is received.

The devices are generally placed in a symmetrical, horizontal line in the center of the Navy ribbon.

#7. Navy Good Conduct Ribbon

Navy Good Conduct Ribbon
  • Established: 1869
  • Design: Red
  • Classification: Service Duration

Next, the Navy Good Conduct Medal may not rank as the highest military award in the service branch, yet it exists among the oldest.

In fact, the Navy variant of the Good Conduct Medal has been in existence since 1869.

Today, every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces has its own variant of the Good Conduct Medal, most of which arrived decades after the Navy version.

The service award is traditionally offered to service members that complete 3 consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service.”

Nevertheless, the time obligation is reduced to 1 year during times of war.

In general, the statement “honorable and faithful service” implies there are no disciplinary infractions or court martial offenses.

Consequently, those that violate one of the requirements of the Good Conduct Ribbon have their term reset from the date of the offense.

Therefore, it’s still possible to earn a Navy Good Conduct Ribbon later on down the road for the embattled sailor.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal is often awarded posthumously to any service member that dies in the line of duty.

Previously, 4 different versions of the medal have been awarded.

The most recent version of the medal is not designed to be worn on the dress uniform.

Rather, the ribbon (along with silver and bronze stars) accompanies the service uniform to denote years of good conduct.

Finally, after 12 years of noble service, sailors are presented with a gold Petty Officer insignia to represent the accomplishment.

Related ArticleBronze Star Meaning: 7 Things To Know About This Military Medal

#8. Navy Expeditionary Ribbon

Navy Expeditionary Ribbon
  • Established: 1936
  • Design: Navy Blue / White
  • Classification: Expeditionary Ribbon

The Navy Expeditionary Ribbon may not quite have the same legacy as the Good Conduct ribbon, yet its history is also impressive.

The service ribbon dates back to 1936 and is presented to Navy officers and enlisted personnel.

Generally, the award is issued to sailors that landed on foreign territory and engaged in operations against armed opposition.

Furthermore, the Navy Expeditionary Ribbon is also granted to service members who operated under circumstances “which, after full consideration, shall be deemed to merit special recognition.”

As a result, the Expeditionary Medal is usually gifted to sailors when they are not eligible for another military award, yet deserving of some type of special recognition.

Impressively, the medal is retroactive and awarded to service members as far back as 1874.

There is also a civilian equivalent of the award for employees of an agency deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like most awards on the list, additional honors are designated by service stars.

#9. Navy Arctic Service Ribbon

Navy Arctic Service Ribbon
  • Established: 1982
  • Design: Light Blue / Dark Blue / White
  • Classification: Deployment Merit

The Navy Arctic Service Ribbon is a fairly modern military decoration.

It was established in May 1986 and retroactively recognizes any service member that meets the criteria to 1982.

The Navy Arctic Service Ribbon highlights a specific portion of military personnel, namely those that served in the Arctic Circle.

Accordingly, the ribbon is not exclusive to the military branch like some Navy ribbons.

Furthermore, the Arctic Service Ribbon can also be awarded to non-military (civilian) personnel.

The award features specific guidelines to determine eligibility based on time of residency or length of duty.

Lastly, the United States Coast Guard also has its own equivalent of the award.

#10. Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
  • Established: 1980
  • Design: Black / Red / Tan / Dark Blue / Light Blue
  • Classification: Deployment Merit

The multicolored Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon is another distinction dedicated to specialized deployment.

It recognizes service members of various branches that fulfill all or a portion of their duty overseas.

The Navy/Marine Corps version of the award was first established in 1980.

However, the military decoration is retroactive (like many awards on the list) to 1974.

The Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon is available to sailors that satisfy 1 of 2 requirements:

  • Serve for a period of 90 consecutive days; or
  • Serve for two periods of at least 80 days each (within a 12-month period).

Multiple other units may be eligible for the military distinction.

Furthermore, the U.S. Navy has a special distinction available to members of the Reserve component.

Then, another cool feature of the military award is how a ship’s crew gets to showcase it.

When a ship’s crew qualifies for the ribbon, the ship is allowed to paint and display the ribbon (along with stars for multiple awards) on the starboard side.

Additionally, the ship’s crew may paint the ribbon on the port as a badge of honor.

It’s also not uncommon to find a Navy or Marine Corps aviation squadron with the same ribbon painted on the hangar.

Related ArticleArmy Commendation Medal (ARCOM): 8 Things To Know

#11. Navy Overseas Service Ribbon

Navy Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Established: 1986
  • Design: Light Blue / Tan / Black / Red
  • Classification: Deployment Merit

The Navy Overseas Service Ribbon was originally proposed in the late-1960s.

However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the service ribbon was officially adopted into the service branch.

Today, the award recognizes sailors that have performed tours outside the borders of the United States.

The Overseas Service Ribbon is comparable to the Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon yet with fewer requirements.

Moreover, every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces features some version of the award.

In general, members of the USMC or Navy that complete 1 year of consecutive or cumulative duty at a permanent overseas duty station are eligible.

Meanwhile, inactive members of the U.S. Navy Reserve may also qualify for the distinction.

Both active duty and Reserve personnel qualify for subsequent awards, as well.

#12. Navy Recruiting Ribbons

Navy Recruiting Ribbons
  • Established: 1989 / 1998
  • Design: Varies
  • Classification: Training Service Awards

The Navy offers some specialized awards designed to certain ratings.

As such, the United States Navy awards the following to recruiters:

  • Navy Recruiting Service Ribbon
  • Navy Accession Training Service Ribbon

The Recruiting Service Ribbon is presented to recruiters in every branch of the military, aside from the U.S. Army (awards the Recruiter Badge).

The service ribbon acknowledges those that have completed a successful tour at one of the U.S. Military Recruiting Commands.

It was established in 1989, yet applies to any Navy recruiter that served after July 1, 1973.

Eligibility for the Navy Accession Training Service Ribbon is slightly different, requiring the drill instructor to be free of any disciplinary action during their tour.

#13. Navy Recruit Honor Graduate Ribbon

Navy Recruit Honor Graduate Ribbon
  • Established: 2015
  • Design: Gold / Red / White / Blue
  • Classification: Training Service Award

The Navy Basic Military Training Honor Graduate Ribbon is another training award.

It’s comparable to the military designations reserved for recruiters.

For this reason, the award highlights a specific function and accomplishment within military service.

The Navy Recruit Honor Graduate Ribbon is one of the most recent inclusions to the service branch.

Whereas, the Air Force and Coast Guard variants presided over the Navy version for several decades.

The service ribbon is presented to enlisted personnel that are designated Honor Graduates of basic training.

It’s rare to earn the distinction, as no more than 3% of each training group is entitled to the award.

Thus, it recognizes the top performers at Navy Basic Training.

#14. Navy Marksman Ribbons

navy pistol marksman ribbon

navy rifle marksman ribbon
Navy Pistol Marksman Ribbon (Top) – Navy Rifle Marksman Ribbon (Bottom)
  • Established: 1920
  • Design: Varies
  • Classification: Navy Marksmanship Awards

The Marine Corps may have the reputation of making every Marine a “marksman,” yet the Navy isn’t slacking in this regard, either.

For this reason, the service branch presents awards for top performers during pistol and rifle training.

As such, Navy personnel can earn marksman ribbons, including:

  • Navy Pistol Marksman Ribbon
  • Navy Rifle Marksman Ribbon

The Navy Pistol Marksman Ribbon was first created in 1920.

It’s presented for reaching the minimum qualifying score for the expert level during a series of assigned shooting exercises.

Navy ribbons for marksmanship do not feature devices, unlike some other awards on the list.

Secondly, the Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon is earned by completing a weapons qualification course at an acceptable standard.

In general, sailors are equipped with an M9 or Mossberg 500 to complete the shooting exercises.

The Rifle ribbon has an additional vertical line stretching down the middle, separating it from the Pistol ribbon.

#15. World War II Victory Ribbon

World War II Victory Ribbon
  • Established: 1945
  • Design: White / Black / Red
  • Classification: WWII Military Award

The World War II Occupation Navy Ribbon is rare to encounter anymore, yet worth mentioning.

In the past, the service award was presented to Navy personnel that occupied certain territories during WWII.

It was designed to recognize those that participated in both the Western and Eastern front of the Second World War.

This service recognition is only awarded once in the lifetime of military personnel.


Navy ribbons are an important distinction of military service.

These military awards are earned for a variety of accomplishments.

Ribbons and medals recognize military achievement and honorable service.

Learning about the appearance and background of each ribbon helps distinguish it from other awards on the Navy uniform.

Rob V.
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US Navy Ribbons

US Navy Ribbons

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Navy ribbons are presented in numerous colors and patterns. It's important to recognize the appearance in order to determine type of award.
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