Originally conceived as a ribbon to be awarded for meritorious service, the Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) is in fact inextricably linked to two other awards issued by the United States Army: the Bronze Star Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM).

The ACM’s ties to the Bronze Star can be found quotations from historical documents found at The Institute of Heraldry. In a “summary sheet” dated November 5, 1945 from the Personnel Division of the WDGAP, a recommendation was made that a ribbon be established to “recognize meritorious service in an area at a time for which the Bronze Star may not be awarded”—in other words, an award that could be given to honor noteworthy performance in non-combat service.

The link to the Bronze Star is further cemented in War Department Circular 377, released 18 December 1945, specifying the award—named the Army Commendation Ribbon—was for “members of the Armed Forces of the United States serving in any capacity with the Army for meritorious service rendered since 7 December 1941, not in sustained operational activities against an enemy nor in direct support of such operation, i.e., in areas and at times when the Bronze Star Medal may not be awarded because of its operational character.”

In June, 1962, President Kennedy made the members of armed forces of friendly foreign nations eligible for the ARCOM; the proviso is that recipients’ distinguishing acts must also have “been of mutual benefit to a friendly nation and the United States.” (Interesting legalese: the regulations do not specify that the “friendly nation” of the recipient and the “friendly nation” that received the mutual benefit have to be one and the same.)

The eligibility standards in 1964 were expanded to include combat-related service or achievements. Specifically, the ARCOM may be awarded for combat-related acts of valor, including those involving aerial flight, which do not quite meet the standards laid out for the awarding of the Bronze Star Medal; these are denoted with the “V” letter device.

In 2016, the Pentagon authorized two newly established letter devices for the ARCOM, “C” and “R,” to more accurately convey the circumstances under which the award was issued. The “C” device reflects service performed under hostile action or the threat of exposure to hostile action; the “R” indicates the meritorious act was carried out from a remote location where the recipient was not exposed to danger from enemy actions.

And in case you’re still wondering just how the ARCOM is related to the Meritorious Service Medal, or MSM: any recommendation for the MSM that does not meet the standards spelled out in AR 600-8-22 and is downgraded will be approved as an Army Commendation Medal.

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