It is true that a Soldier's awarded medals and ribbons are among the most cherished of items that adorn their various dress uniforms. As a material embodiment of their accomplishments, accompanied by their individual award write-ups on file, throughout a Soldier's career, they will continually add to the colorful, "Christmas-tree" like display of ribbons that are nestled neatly on top of the heart on the left chest side of a dress uniform.
With heightened operations and battle tempo as of recently, the sheer quantity of ribbons obtained by an individual Soldier is much greater than during previous wars. Between a Soldier's basic individual training (basic combat training and advanced individual training) and a single deployment, it definitely isn't uncommon for a Soldier to obtain enough ribbons to fill at least one or two rows on what can gradually become a highly coveted military ribbon rack over the course of an entire 20-year career. The ribbons, and their accompanying medals, obtained over this period, even by a junior enlisted Soldier, will be the Army Service Ribbon (ASR), National Defense Service Medal (NSDM), and, theater awards, as well (Global War on Terrorism Service and Expeditionary Medals, etc).
Unfortunately, with heightened operations following the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11, the sheer act of assembling one's ribbons into the proper and correct order of precedence can be someone of a painstakingly daunting task without the right direction and guidance. Despited the nature of the ribbon assembly and mounting process, it is the professional Soldier that plan appropriately, and take the time necessary to ensure that their military ribbons are assembled in accordance with a correct order of precedence on their ribbon rack.
Read it, Know it, Do it.
As the gold-standard regulation for United States' Army wear and appearance, AR 670-1 will be of great value to any Soldier who is interested in knowing their military ribbon order of precedence. A copy of this manual should be available at any Active duty Army base, or National Guard armory. No headquarters should be without this manual, as many Soldiers have relied upon it to provide them with the best, most accurate, information regarding everything from the wear and appearance of various Army uniforms, to a description of how each military ribbon should be assembled in the correct order of precedence. As a professional Soldier, you will want to obtain this manual, read it, and live it.
It is entirely possible that you may not have access to a hardcover copy of AR 670-1. While Army units should have this manual, it would be highly unreasonable to expect Soldiers to carry it around with them all day, in their cargo pocket, just like they would a notebook or Soldier's handbook. Fortunately, this manual is available for download from a variety of websites online. Simply conduct a Google search and you will be well on your way to learning, per the manual, how to effectively assemble your military ribbons in the correct order of precedence.
While a 670-1 manual will be invaluable to you and your efforts, there is an even easier way to learn what your military ribbon order of precedence should be. Because each indivual Soldier's experience and awards are different, an AR 670-1 won't actually display your ribbons, for you, in the correct order of precedence. Instead, the marvels of modern technology have presented Soldiers with the ability to quickly and easily access online websites that will essentially assemble all your selected military ribbons and medal into the correct order of precedence for you. All you will need to do is find a website store like medalsofamerica.com, and access their ribbon rack builder function. When you have successfully accessed this feature of their site, be sure to choose all the ribbons and awards that you have earned as a result of your service.
Rather than having to lay all your ribbons out on a table, with an AR 670-1 opened up attempted to figure out the best way to assemble your ribbons, a website like that will take your input and immediately present you with a visual display of the correct order of precedence that you Army ribbons should be placed in on your military ribbon rack. Because ribbons are essentially miniature versions of the "cloth" part of a medal, this is exactly how your medals would be mounted, as well.
Order of Precedence Revealed
Whether you use AR 670-1, or an online military ribbon rack builder to help you assemble your ribbons and medals in the correct order of precedence, it is important for a Soldier to know and understand just how this is accomplished. Currently, there are ten different categories for awards. Your military ribbons must be arranged in an order of precedence in accordance with this category list.
These categories are as follows:
a. U.S. military decorations. - These awards are given to Soldiers in recognition of honorable, heroic, meritorious, or outstanding service.
b. U.S. unit awards. - As the name implies, these awards are given to a collective unit, and are worn by all the individuals who took part in the action(s) for which the unit itself earned the award.
c. U.S. non-military decorations.
d. U.S. service (campaign) medals, and service and training ribbons.
e. U.S. Merchant Marine awards.
f. U.S. non-military unit awards.
g. Foreign military decorations.
h. Foreign unit awards.
i. Non-U.S. service awards.
j. State awards for ARNG soldiers.
With reference to this list, any award or ribbon that is deemed a "U.S. military decoration" will always be assembled first (before the other categories of ribbons) in the order of precedence of your ribbons. U.S. military decorations, as a category, currently consist of thirty-one (31) different medals, ranging from the Medal of Honor to the Combat Action Ribbon. Of course, in this category, the Medal of Honor would be of highest precedence and the Combat Action Ribbon would be of lowest precedence.
Whether you are currently a professional Soldier, or you have retired as a veteran and require the knowledge of how to assemble your ribbons and medals, knowing how exactly the Army's order of precedence works can be a tremendous resource to you as you guide both your own career, as well as, the career of your subordinates.