The highest military award given by the United States during peacetime, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (DDSM) 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 DDSM 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. Astonishingly, two Generals—former Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and retired CENTCOM commander Lloyd Austin—were both awarded the DDSM five times.

In early 2017, the Pentagon announced that the DDSM would be one of ten medals for which wear of the newly created “C” device was authorized. The “C” device was established to recognize “meritorious service or achievement under combat conditions.” The device is not awarded based on geographical location, i.e., simply being present in an area designated as a combat zone is not sufficient to justify awarding of the device.

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 (Recipient)."

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. A bronze oak leaf cluster is used to indicate each subsequent award, and silver oak leaf clusters are worn in lieu of five bronze. The exception to this rule is if the recipient has also earned the "C" device with one of the awards. Only three bronze oak leaf clusters may be worn at the same time as the "C" for a total of four devices maximum: an Arabic numeral is used to indicate the appropriate number of oak leaf clusters when their wear would result in exceeding that maximum. Also, silver oak leaf clusters are never worn with the "C" device.

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As a certified manufacturer of uniforms and insignia, The Salute Uniforms considers it a privilege to provide the members of our nation’s military services with superior-quality apparel and accoutrements. We guarantee that every product we offer is made in the USA and meets or surpasses Mil-Spec standards. Browse our online catalog and discover how our tradition of excellence and commitment to innovation makes us your best source for military uniforms, insignias, medals, and accessories.


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