The United States Coast Guard Commendation Medal was originally authorized only as a ribbon on August 26, 1947 by the Secretary of the Treasury, which took control of the service from the United States Navy on January 1, 1946. It was redesignated a medal by the Coast Guard Commandant on October 2, 1959.
The Commendation Medal is awarded to any person, including members of other branches of the Armed Forces of the United States as well as foreign military personnel, who distinguishes him or herself through acts of heroism or meritorious service or achievement. For acts of heroism, it lower in precedence than the Bronze Star, and it is frequently awarded for heroic achievements that do rise to the level necessary for that award. However, the fact that a Commendation Medal was awarded in lieu of a Bronze Star does not in and of itself imply that the heroism displayed was of lesser degree than required for a Bronze Star, since one of the requirements for a Bronze Star is that the recipient is receiving Imminent Danger Pay at the time of the actions or service being rewarded.
When the award is being considered for meritorious achievement, the awarding authorities must conclude that the achievement constitutes an unquestionable contribution to the Coast Guard; examples include an invention, an improvement in existing procedures, or recommendations to improve the efficiency or functionality of a unit. In the case of meritorious service, the primary factors are the circumstances and conditions that were in effect when the service was performed. Additionally, the performance is not judged on its own, but in comparison with what is expected from Coast Guardsmen holding a particular rating and rank or rate.
Note that being awarded the Commendation Medal does not preclude receiving another award for actions or services that took place during the time frame recognized with the Commendation Medal (or vice-versa). What is prohibited is receiving more than one award for the same achievement, act, or period of service, so submissions for awards with overlapping time periods cannot cite the act of heroism or meritorious achievement for which another award was given.