The highest non-combat military award given by the United States, the Defense Distinguished Service medal is also the highest joint service decoration. Interestingly, it is awarded solely by the initiative of the Secretary of Defense -- no one can even officially recommend a recipient.
Established by Richard Nixon (Executive Order 11545) on July 9, 1970, the Defense Distinguished Service medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished performance of duty contributing to U.S. national security or defense. It is a rare award, given only to service personnel assigned to joint activities, and recipients are usually the highest-ranking senior officers. For example, Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. both have been given the medal, and Navy Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda received two.
The medal has precedence over Defense Distinguished Service decorations awarded by the separate divisions of the Armed Forces; in fact, it cannot be presented for any period for which one of those DDS medals is given.
The medal is a gilt circle with a blue enamel pentagon point up in the center. The upper half of the circle is comprised of thirteen five-pointed stars; the bottom half features a laurel wreath to the left and an olive wreath to the right. Superimposed on the circle and pentagon is a golden bald eagle facing left with its wings outstretched and its talons clutching three crossed arrows. On its breast is a gold shield and the suspender at the top of the medal is comprised of five graduated gold rays. The back of the medal is inscribed "For Distinguished Service" at the top and, within the pentagon, "From the Secretary of Defense to (Recepient)."
The medal hangs from a ribbon with a center stripe of dark red bordered on either side by wider stripes of gold and medium blue. Oak clusters denote subsequent awards.