Established by Executive Order on June 28, 1941, the purpose of the Army Good Conduct medal was to recognize Soldiers who had displayed three traits—exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity—while engaged in Federal military service. These overarching qualities are emphasized by the inscription on the obverse of the medal: Efficiency, Honor, Fidelity.
While the award is issued by Unit commanders who evaluate each candidate’s record and performance in toto, there are certain guidelines they use in making their decision. Generally speaking, the commander must come to the conclusion that the Soldier’s character is free from any hint of dishonor of opprobrium; this is personified by a willingness to comply with the demands and exigencies of a military environment, steadfast loyalty and obedience to all superiors, evidence of faithful support of the goals of both the Soldier’s unit, branch, and the Army as a whole, and conduct that not only sets an example for fellow Soldiers but also is distinguishing in and of itself.
The qualifying periods of service for the Army Good Conduct Medal have been modified several times since it was originally established in June, 1941, primarily to reflect the ever-changing nature of military conflict and the attendant hazards, risks, and sacrifices it demands. (Note that the current qualifying periods may not reflect every qualifying period ever spelled out in the regulations). Originally, the medal was awarded for each three years of service completed on or after 27 August 1941, but the time requirement for issuance of the first instance of the award was reduced to one full year served entirely between the attack on Pearl Harbor and March 2, 1946.
The next change, again applying only to the first award, was something of a compromise: It could be given upon termination of service on or after June 27, 1950 (the start of the Korean War) for service of less than three years but more than one year. This was modified to allow issuance of the ribbon for service of less than a year if the reason for termination of service was due to physical disability caused while in the line of duty, which was logically extended to encompass Soldiers who died in the line of duty before completing one year of active Federal military service.
Though highly rigorous, the standards do recognize that, as the old adage goes, no one is perfect, and thus the occurrence of a non-judicial punishment is not enough on its own to disqualify a candidate from the AGCM.
To acknowledge Soldiers who have displayed these high levels of exemplary behavior throughout the course of their Army career, clasps are issued starting with the second awarding of the AGCM; a second AGCM is represented by a claps with two loops, a third by three loops, and so forth. A silver clasp with a single loop is awarded for the sixth instance of the AGCM, with the silver indicating five previous AGCMs and the loop representing the sixth.