Although members of the Coast Guard have been eligible to be awarded the Navy Combat Action Ribbon (CAR) since it was established in 1969, there were several stipulations in the regulations that could understandably rankle the pride that Coast Guardsmen take in their branch of service. One was an eligibility requirement stating that a Coast Guardsman’s qualifying actions had to take place while serving at a time when the Coast Guard (or the Coast Guard units on which they were serving) was under the operational control of the Navy. Another was that the CAR was approved and awarded by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Command Master Chief, and their designees, all of whom derived this authority from the Secretary of the Navy.

Of course, that is not to say that Coast Guardsmen whose actions otherwise met the CAR requirements would be overlooked simply because they were serving at a time when the Coast Guard or their units weren’t under Navy control; the regulations specified that the CAR could be awarded for minor operations and even specific actions. But the wording of the regulations made such a situation a possibility; you could even go so far as to call it a distinct possibility, given the fluid and unconventional nature of the Global War on Terror.

But if there were any concerns that the regulations could lead to Coast Guard personnel being overlooked as candidates for the CAR, they were pretty much eliminated with the promulgation of ALCOAST 361/08 on July 16, 2008 from the Secretary of Homeland Security. Interestingly, the ALCOAST was issued as a Commandant Note—and Thad W. Allen, the Commandant who issued it, never earned this particular award over the course of his nearly forty-year Coast Guard career.

The original ALCOAST message stated that primary eligibility criterion was performing satisfactorily under enemy fire while actively taking part in a maritime or ground engagement, and specified that simply serving in a combat area, being wounded (i.e., receiving the Purple Heart), or even a similar badge from another service branch would automatically result in earning the USCG CAR.

The award was originally authorized for actions during Operations Allied Force (the liberation of Kosovo), Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Since that time, the list of authorized operations has been expanded to a dozen, dating back to December 7, 1941 all the way to Operation Inherent Resolve (which has a start date of June 15, 2015). As with the Navy version of the award, the USCG CAR is not awarded to personnel who engaged in aerial combat unless they were forced to evade or escape after their aircraft has been downed.

The Coast Guard CAR resembles the Navy version, except that a white band has been added to both sides of the red, white, and blue bands in center of the ribbon. Personnel are eligible to receive more than one CAR, with second and subsequent awards being denoted with bronze service stars; a silver service star is worn in lieu of five bronze service stars.

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