With separate and unique histories, each respective branch of the United States' Armed Forces has a written manual in place that essentially serves to guide and govern the wear and appearance of their uniforms amongst Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coasties. Unfortunately, even with detailed information being readily available to each service personnel, errors in military ribbon mounting, wear, and display are tyically the most noticeable of uniform error simply because these ribbons adorn a tremendous amount of real estate on a service member's left chest side. Pay attention to the steps I lay out in this InfoBarrel article, and be sure that the wear and appearance of your ribbons, and overall uniform, are up to par with what your respective service branch requires.
Examine for Serviceability
Military ribbons can be found in many different states that span the spectrum from presentable and serviceable to worn, ragged, and horrendously unserviceable. Before ever considering to wear any one military ribbon, or consolidating all your awarded ribbons onto a mounted ribbon rack, it is important that you be sure to hold them to a high standard related to their condition. If any one ribbon looks worn and ragged, don't wear it. If you identify a ribbon that warrants a replacement, be sure to make a note of it on a sticky note or a piece of loose leaf paper. Dependent upon how many of your ribbons require replacement, you will definitely want to have a running log to keep with you whether you shop online, or at an AAFES clothing and sales.
Explore Online and Offline Options
Military ribbons can be found many places both online and offline. If you find that your ribbons are in need of hasty replacement, don't hesitate to do a simple Google search. My favorite online marketplaces for purchasing military ribbons, as well as, various other military gear, equipment, and novelties include SoldierCity.com, militaryclothing.com, and rangerjoe.com. Online stores, such as medalsofamerica.com will actually allow you to purchase your ribbons, have them mounted for an additional $1 per ribbon row fee, and they will ultimately deliver a completed ribbon rack to you: thus, removing the time, effort and tediousness that can go into mounting your ribbons on your own. With shipment attached, you may find that ribbons run just a little more expensive then had you gone to an AAFES clothing and sales store. Unfortunately, especially for National Guardsmen and Reservist, you just may not have the luxury of having a military clothing and sales store close to you, within a few minute drive through an active duty post.
To Mount or Not to Mount?
It's true. All ribbons must eventually be mounted. As mentioned previously, this can be a very tedious process. Military ribbon mounts can be purchased as plastic or metal backings. If you are to assemble your ribbon rack on your own, be sure to do so with caution as one false move could lend to a ribbon, or the mount itself, becoming bent and unusable.
Military Ribbon Order of Precedence
One unfortunate resounding trait of military ribbon mounting is the fact that the correct determination of order of precedence oftentimes isn't determined until a mistake is realized. Rather than incorrectly assembling and mounting your ribbons, be sure to do the proper research regarding what exact order your awards should go in. With many awards being awarded since the United States' occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11, servicemembers have been inundated with a barrage of awards that generations before them never knew. For any given service member, the amount of awards received is directly related to the potential for error when mounting, especially when some ribbons have similar names. The best advice I can give is to print out any documentation you have regarding awards, highlight where necessary, and assemble your ribbons to the side of your ribbon rack on a table under high quality lighting.
One tremendous tool that I have used to mount my ribbons has been an online ribbon rack builder. While the goal of the companies who offer this service is to ultimately realize a sale, if you don't want to purchase from them, you can always simply use their ribbon rack building website interface to see exactly what and how your ribbon mount should look like when properly assembled by order of precedence. This can save a service member a tremendous amount of time and only really requires a few extra minutes of time. With a finished product online, you can also print it out and use it to guide your own ribbon purchase and mounting.
When placing your military ribbons on your uniform, a small ruler or tape measurer will come in handy. Proper positioning, in accordance with your respective service branches' guidelines and regulations for uniform wear and appearance, can take some time to achieve, however, the time taken to ensure this is done correctly will be worth it in the end. It is my recommendation that, even if you don't print out the entire uniform regulation, that you print out those parts which are applicable to the specific uniform your are assembling. Dependent upon the uniform you are assembling, there may be different measurements related to where your ribbon rack is actually located with respect to uniform lapels or pockets. It is important that you be as precise and accurate, with your measurements, as possible. With the keen eye of many groomed Senior Non-Commissioned Officers, even the smallest, most uninentional, uniform missplacements can be noticeably obvious even a few steps away.
Don't make yourself a target. Assemble your ribbon rack, and the remainder of your military uniform, the correct way in compliance and adherence to the governing regulation. If you strive your hardest to look professional, trust me, your peers as well as your supervisors will notice and this effort will reflect very highly upon you. Once you have assembled your own military ribbon rack properly, be sure to lend a helpful hand to any of your friends or buddies who's uniform may look less than squared away.