Like the other four branches of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Coast Guard awards its Good Conduct Medal for satisfactory service for a specified length of service. In the Coast Guard Military Medals and Awards Manual (COMDTINST M1650.25E), satisfactory service is defined as “proficiency” in several performance categories, including courage, neatness, industry, obedience, rating, and sobriety. Since 1983, that has translated into average marks of three or greater in all factors and conduct marks of at least four.
Regulations specifically state that three consecutive years of satisfactory service are required for the award, and that creditable service must have been accrued while serving on active duty for periods of three months or more while in the regular Coast Guard on the Reserve. But “consecutive” doesn’t translate into what most people think of they hear that word because of exceptions made to reflect circumstances that are beyond the control of a Guardsman and for which their Good Conduct eligibility should not be diminished.
For example, inactive duty for periods of less than three months are not considered a break in continuous service for the purpose of the award. Another example is Guardsmen who re-enlist within three months; while the time spent out of service is not creditable, their accrued, creditable service picks up where it where it ended during their previous enlistment and is therefore “continuous.” Neither temporary retirement caused by physical disability nor authorized temporary separation of two years or less is considered a break in continuous service, but again the time spent in either status does not count toward the medals’ requirement of three “consecutive” years.
There are several other factors involved when determining length of service eligibility for the Coast Guard’s Good Conduct medal; you can find them in Chapter 5 of COMDINST M1650.25E. And in case you had any doubts as to how confusing these calculations can get at times, keep in mind that the Coast Guard is the only Armed Forces branch that has issued a document called “Computing Good Conduct Medal Eligibility Date” to aid those less-skilled in this type of administrative minutiae.