Ask America’s 1stSgt: What does it all mean?

The New Magoo asks about uniforms and accompanying paraphernalia.

“Back in primary school we had a project about WWII. My dad told me about my granddad and I took his medals in and talked about D-Day and tanks and stuff. I remember my teacher saying something along the lines of how a soldier’s medals and his uniform can basically tell you everything you need to know about his career, if you knew what to look for.

So my question is, what can your (or any general non-specific Marine’s ) uniform tell us? What does it all mean?”

In my opinion, your teacher was basically right. Everything you need to know is right there pinned on to the chest. We often refer to awards, ribbons, and badges as “chest candy”. This is because it’s very colorful and much of it doesn’t always mean anything monumentally significant except that America likes to recognize service members with lots of bling (and that’s kind of cool really). It also doesn’t necessarily tell you how “good” someone is at what they do or lend them any credibility.

Here are the basics:

Ribbons and medals can tell you what parts of the world someone has been to or what campaigns they have participated in.

Korean Defense Medal –

Southwest Asia Service Medal –

Kuwaiti Liberation Medal-

Achievement medals and such can be awarded for superior performance over a period of time or for a specific act. If you see a V device on the award you know it was awarded for valor. Valor is one of my favorite words.

The Purple Heart Medal is of course awarded to those wounded in combat.

The Combat Action Ribbon is coveted by nearly every young Marine who has never seen actual combat and not so coveted by those that have.

In the later half of my first Iraq deployment we had pretty much pushed all the bad guys out of our AO. Some of the younger Marines complained they weren’t going to be able to get their Combat Action Ribbon. To my proud surprise some of the slightly older Marines responded with: “Good! Then we’re not doing any memorial services either.”
The Iraqi Campaign Medal is self explanatory I think.

As is the Afghan Campaign Medal.

Trying to decipher what all this means could hurt your brain so I like to keep it simple. Let’s stick to the awards someone like me keeps an eye out for. Certain things tell you more about servicemen than you might think.

I am always on the lookout for this ribbon.

It is the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. It tells you the bearer has been deployed overseas. Why is this important? It may or may not surprise some that despite the expeditionary nature of our occupation there are those who put quite a bit of effort into NOT deploying. Some of us read more into the Sea Service ribbon than any number of Navy Achievement Medals. This is what I meant above when I said all you need to know about someone is right there on the chest.
In the Marine Corps, subsequent awards of the same type are displayed on the ribbon as a service star. One silver star equals five bronze stars. You can hang around and do the math if you want to but I generally equate a bunch of stars on an awards to “a lot”.

On our Service A and Dress Blue uniforms you may notice diagonal service stripes we refer to as “hash marks”. In the Marine Corps each stripe represents four years of service.

Other decorations include rifle and pistol badges. There are three different badges depending on how well you shoot in the Marine Corps. The only one that matters is the Expert Badge. Why? Because the Sharpshooter and Marksmen badges mean you don’t shoot as well as the Experts do. In the Corps we refer to the Marksman badges as “pizza boxes”. Marksmanship being so ingrained in our culture and history, walking around with pizza boxes pinned to your chest is like bearing a “kick me” sign. I would feel sorry for them if they weren’t a bunch of non-shooting cub scouts.This gunslinger is sporting multiple award rifle and pistol expert badges proving he is pretty shooty. He has also spent quite a bit of time overseas including Asia and Iraq, as well as some time as an embassy guard. Look, jump wings! The lead sled on top indicates the individual is at least a five jump chump.

There are also Distinguished Marksmanship badges but if your Sea Service Deployment Ribbon doesn’t have stars falling off I really don’t want to hear about it. It’s great that you shot up the Division Rifle Matches but those skills are probably best demonstrated on the Taliban next time.

And finally, no, there are no medals for zombie slaying. Killing zombies is its own reward.

/ / / /


  1. I just had a moderator in a recruit parent online forum (yes, our son is following in our footsteps) “correct” me because I referred to the Marksmanship badge with less than glowing accolades. She said “Just remember, every Marine is a rifleman and we are proud of ALL of our recruits.” I replied that yes we’re proud, but I wouldn’t wanna walk around with a “toilet seat” on my uniform. She deleted the whole thread. 😉

  2. Great post 1stSgt.
    I proudly wear my only medal. Good Conduct. USMCR 1982-1988.
    It isn’t as impressive as my best friend (MGySgt) and his 4 rows and 25 years of service in the Reserve. But I’m okay with it, for I married well and have 3 wonderful kids and 2 grandkids. They don’t give medals out for that, well the Marine Corps doesn’t any way. I’ll ask my cousin who served in the Army if they do! 😉

  3. Yay! Great post! Do MWD’s ever get medals? 😛

    My first reaction to seeing anyone’s medals is usually “ooh, shiny!” followed by “which one are you most proud of?” and then i run out of questions, so thank you for such a thorough overview.

    How on earth do you guys remember where to put them all, or what order to put your ribbons in? Or is that something else the company 1st Sgt gets to check?

    Thanks also for giving us some perspective on what a young Marine like Sgt Wrightsman could achieve over his sadly shortened career.

  4. @ Meadowlark,
    LOL. Yeah those recruitparent forum mods are a humorless bunch. Super sensitive. Ran afoul of them m’self — early. 🙂

    re: hashmarks and GCM
    We’d be quick to compare qty of hashmarks to GCMs on senior enlisteds. Gave an idea of who was high maintenance as a junior enlisted.

    Of course the Navy makes that game a bit easier by having both red and gold hashmarks & crows after 12 years service. No gold unless 3 consecutive GCM’s were awarded.

  5. Meadowlark, I have never been on any of those forums but it disturbs me how PC and sensitive we are getting as a nation. “Everybody is a winner!” No, everyone isn’t. Anyway, I remember as a young Marine giving my dad grief when I saw a picture of him sporting Sharpshooter badges. He asked me how many people I’d killed with my Expert badge and I humbly got him a beer.

    Okie, living well is indeed the best revenge. I think the Army does have like a potty training ribbon or something.

    Magoo, the number of rules, articles, orders, and regulations that govern what we do is mind boggling. Luckily it is all written down so I don’t have to memorize any.

    be603, if those same mods heard some of the conversations going on between their Marines in the squad bay they’d crap in their hands and rub it in their face.

  6. “be603, if those same mods heard some of the conversations going on between their Marines in the squad bay they’d crap in their hands and rub it in their face.”

    yeah, IMAO 90% of those forums are like a support group for mommy and girlfriend apron string withdrawal.

    Which brings to mind this classic on the wussification of America by Kim du Toit. Man, I miss his blog posts.

  7. Me thinks you need to come up with a zombie slaying medal. I’m not sure what it would look like, but it would be very cool, and very few would be given out.

  8. I recently found my 4 year old going through my jewelry box looking for “Marine Jewelry.” When I asked him where he saw Marine Jewelry he brought me a picture of my friend in his dress blues sporting all his shinies. My son was pretty disappointed to find out he had to earn “Marine Jewelry” but does think more of my friend.
    I also agree with Kanani, you need to come up with a Zombie Slaying metal.

  9. Hey 1stSgt:

    Guess what time it is, again!?!,0,4748580.story

    Hope that didn’t break the page. I am so clueless on html stuffs.

    Anyhoo, in case you couldn’t read it, Gates is kicking off the usual in “redefining” the Marine Corps.

    It always starts with a “redefining”. Then, the next thing you know, the Corps is down to a few under strength battalions… just like the day before the Korean War started.

    I know, I know, one team, one fight. Funny that never comes up when its about budget.

    God, please damn those among the US Army and US Navy that can’t keep their filthy grubbing mitts off the USMC’s stuff.

    Semper Fi and getting ready to throw down.

  10. Okie, we served during the same time – 1982-1985. I think my Army Wife has more ribbons than I did (GCM, Sea Service w/star) and she’s only been in for two years so far. What I found interesting in boot camp was the majority of Rifle Experts (myself included) were not grunts. Most of the 03’s were Marksman or Sharpshooter.

    It’s interesting that A1S shows off the Korean Defense Medal. Was he storming the wall at Inchon with Chesty Puller? (ducking) I do recall that the .45s that were assigned to us were Korean War vintage. I wonder if A1S handled one of them? I get all tingly thinking that my hands may have wrapped around the same pistol grip that graced A1S’ hands.

  11. Well, yesterday the son&heir got orders to a VFMA squadron and is a happy camper. Squadron has a good reputation among airwing friends of mine.

    His dreamsheet was to go overseas or west coast. Looks like he’ll homeport at Miramar and get a shot at that sea service ribbon muy pronto.

    Scuttlebutt I hear around here (San Diego) is they’re going to WesPac right after the New Year. That’ll do Pig. That’ll do.

    Time for him to get some salt of his own working on the roof.

  12. Top,
    I agree with you about the shooting badges. I’d say “why even wear one if it’s not expert.”
    I qualified expert on every weapon I was ever assigned…but that’s not just because of luck, it’s a skill one has to practice at often to be any good.
    For the teams I was in charge of, we didn’t leave the range until they were all experts.
    Then I really taught them how to shoot.

    The Army wears “stuff” on their everyday uniforms. These days if some of us don’t see a unit “combat” patch on the right shoulder, we don’t pay much attention to the solider when they try to train us.

    Now, I can fold up my uniforms and save them for my grand kids to play with.
    Keep the peace, be safe.


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