Established in May, 1980 by the Secretary of the Navy and officially announced almost eight months later in SECNAV Instruction 1650.35 of January 26, 1981, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (SSDR) is awarded to officers and enlisted personnel in both the Navy and Marine Corps. Eligibility criteria is based upon the unit to which an officer, Sailor, or Marine is assigned: Marine Corps personnel assigned to Navy units follow Navy policy, and vice-versa. The award was retroactively authorized to August 15, 1974, the end date of the eligibility period for awarding the National Defense Service Medal for participation in the Vietnam War.
When the SSDR was initially established, the primary eligibility requirement was that personnel must be assigned to ships homeported in the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), deploying units, or Fleet Marine Force units and complete twelve cumulative months of sea duty, with at least one deployment lasting 90 consecutive days or longer.
Because of changes in deployment patterns that resulted in more frequent but shorter deployments, the 90-day requirement was amended for Navy units to include two deployments of at least 80 days each, effective October 18, 1991. Similarly, the twelve-months of accumulated sea duty was waived for otherwise eligible personnel who were called for sea duty or deployed as part of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, or Iraqi Freedom; the waiver only applied for initial awarding of the ribbon. Navy personnel are also eligible for a 14-day waiver of the twelve-month sea-duty requirement if they have met the deployment requirements.
Personnel who are assigned to units outside the Continental United States (overseas homeported ships, deploying units, or Fleet Marine Force command) are eligible for the SSDR upon accumulating twelve months of sea duty, but are not required to meet the 90-day / 2 x 80-day deployment requirements. After October 1, 1999, Navy personnel who meet these requirements are not precluded from also qualifying for the Overseas Service Ribbon.
Squadron and Battalion commanding officers in the Marine Corps are authorized to waive the 90-day deployment (in CONUS) and the twelve months of sea duty (outside CONUS) on a case-by-case basis; this was implemented when personnel on the brink of earning the SSDR lost the opportunity when their deployment was cut short through no fault of their own.