The establishment of the Navy Good Conduct Medal (NCGM) on April 26, 1869 was one of the few actions taken by Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie, who served in President Grant’s cabinet less than four months before quietly stepping down. According to SECNAVINST 1650.1H, Navy And Marine Corps Awards Manual, the medal was designed to bring recognition to “all-around” good Navy enlisted personnel whose records of performance were a testament that they were well-qualified in both conduct and performance. While all branches of the United States Armed Forces have Good Conduct Medals, the Navy’s is oldest, with its creation predating the Marine Corps’ medal by twenty-seven years.
There are two main eligibility requirements Sailors must meet to be awarded the NGCM: Period of Service and, of course, Good Conduct. Currently, Sailors must log three years of continuous active service in either the Regular Navy or the Navy Reserve—but it must be understood that “continuous active service” service is subject to several types of waivers and codicils. For instance, a member who is discharged or released but subsequently reenlists or reports for active duty within three months will be considered to have continuous active service (although the time between separation and return to duty is not counted as time of service toward the three-year requirement).
The three-year requirement actually represents an easing of the NGCM standards: Between 1 November 1963 and 31 December 1995, the standard was four years. (To see the complete list of exceptions and modifications affecting the length of continuous active service, please refer to SECNAVINST 1650.1H.)
Over those three years, the Sailor’s record must be clear, i.e., no convictions by court-martial, no instances of non-judicial punishment, and no civil convictions for offenses involving “moral turpitude.” Looking closer at the requirements, the award could also justifiably be called the “Good Conduct and Healthy Constitution Medal”—any time lost due to sickness invalidates an otherwise worthy candidate.
Another fairly substantial change in the NGCM requirements was also introduced in 1996, when minimum performance marks were reduced to 2.0 across all traits. In the twelve-plus years preceding this change, any mark below 3.0 in a slew of categories (Reliability, Military Bearing, Personal Behavior, Military Knowledge/Performance, Directing, and Rating Knowledge/Performance) rendered the candidate ineligible. These standards replaced a rate-stratified system that was in effect until August, 1983, which mandated that Petty Officers Third Class and below could have no mark below 3.0 in any trait, while First- and Second-Class Petty Officers were disqualified if they had a mark below EEL (Typically Effective-Lower) the traits of Conduct, Directing, Individual Productivity, or Conduct. For CPOs (E7-E9), no mark under the bottom 50 percent in Conduct, Directing, Performance, or Reliability was allowed.