Military Decorations, Medals, Awards, and Ribbons Whats the Difference?

Display boxes for Air Force medals

There are many honors and decorations used in the military, and it can be confusing for a layperson to try to follow all the particulars, even within one branch. The attached video will help explain the differences in the ribbons, medals, decorations, and awards in detail.

Simply put: Medals can be awarded for participation in a particular campaign, good conduct, or a noncombatant service and are typically round. Decorations are awarded for more specific things such as acts of gallantry and may be shaped in a cross, star, etc. Ribbons correspond to medals and are service-specific.

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They are displayed on the uniform according to very specific protocols.

Medals are usually the most common item displayed by both collectors and families of military veterans alike. They’re also one of the most easily recognizable in terms of being from the armed forces, second only to ribbons, which are the colored bands worn over the breast pocket on the uniform. Display boxes for Air Force medals can be found in military and other specialty shops, as well as online.