The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Military Pins and Ribbons and What They Mean

The military pins and ribbons worn on a service member’s uniform are a testament to the journey that particular member of the armed forces has gone through, but what do the pins on a military uniform mean? We dug deep into the meaning behind every type of pin that can be found on a military uniform with this illustrated guide that showcases more than 100 military pins that are awarded across the six different branches of the military. The badges and insignia we’ve chosen to display in our guide are examples that can be found within the different military branches; this is not an exhaustive list of military pins. The WizardPins military pin guide can be helpful for those who need help identifying military pins or just want to admire the heroic hardware that adorns the uniforms of the many brave people who serve in the U.S. military. 

 

 

 

 

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Which Military Uniform Do Service Members Wear Pins On?

Military pins are worn on the service member’s dress uniform. The full dress uniform is reserved for more formal occasions, such as parades, ceremonies, receptions, and even private formal events such as weddings or funerals. It is often more decorative and elaborate than the service dress uniform, a less formal dress uniform that is worn in the office or for non-field duty purposes. 

When a service member is not wearing their dress uniform, they can be found wearing their combat uniform, which is a more casual uniform that is worn for fieldwork and when in combat. Wearing a uniform adorned with shiny pins while in combat is not comfortable or stealthy, so military patches are worn on the combat uniform instead to identify the solder’s rank and skills. If you would like to learn more about military patches, you can check out our guide to the meaning behind every type of patch on a U.S. military uniform. 

What Are Marksmanship Badges and Medals?

Marksmanship badges and marksmanship medals are awards given to a member of the military after they have successfully completed a weapons qualification course; they are worn underneath the Service Ribbons on the front left pocket. The awards given out by the Army and Marine Corps branches are referred to as marksmanship qualification badges, while the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force awards for weapons qualifications are referred to as marksmanship medals. The qualification badges and medals are awarded in three grades, expert, sharpshooter, and marksman, across a variety of weapons. The type of weapon that the qualification was earned for can be found displayed on the badge or medal. 

Marksmanship competition badges are also worn on the left pocket underneath the service ribbons, and these are awarded for high achievement during one of the official marksmanship competitions that are held several times a year. The marksmanship competition badges are awarded in three or four grades (highest to lowest) depending on the military branch awarding them. The Army and Coast Guard award them in three grades: distinguished, silver, and bronze. The Navy and Marine Corps award them in four grades: distinguished, gold, silver, and bronze. And the Air Force’s four grades include distinguished, silver with wreath, bronze with wreath, and bronze. 

What Do Service Ribbons on a Military Uniform Represent?

Service ribbons are often the most colorful part of a military dress uniform and are used to represent medals that have been awarded to the service member. It is not rare to see the actual medals adorning a dress uniform, but as more of these heavy medals are awarded, they can become cumbersome for the service member to wear. To combat this, the military allows service ribbons to be worn in place of the associated medals, with the colors of the ribbon bar matching those of the ribbon that holds the medal. Some of the more well-known service medals include the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Prisoner of War Medal. 

There are two types of medals that are represented with service ribbons: individual award medals and unit citation award medals. The individual awards are earned by an individual service member, while unit citation awards are awarded to service members who show extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. Both types of service ribbons are worn above the left front pocket on the dress uniform for all branches of the military, although members of the Army exclusively wear the unit citation awards above the right pocket. 

 

Military Pins

Below is a complete list of the military pins and ribbons that were included in this guide:

U.S. Flag Lapel Pin

The U.S. flag pin is not required on the military dress uniform but should be worn on the left lapel of the service member’s jacket so that it rests over their heart. 

Name Plate

The name plate is a pin worn above the right pocket that identifies the service member by their last name. 

U.S. Letters Branch Insignia and Branch Insignia Badges

Branch insignia are military lapel pins worn on the dress uniform jacket and represent a service member’s specific field of service and their skill set. Enlisted service members wear the U.S. Letters Branch Insignia on the right lapel, while the Branch Insignia Badge is worn opposite it on the left lapel. Officers wear the U.S. Letters Branch Insignia on the upper half of both lapels and the Branch Insignia Badges on the lower half of both lapels. 

  • U.S. Letters Branch Insignia
    • Army
    • Air Force
    • Space Force
  • Branch Insignia Badges:
    • Artillery Officer Branch
    • Medical Corps Branch
    • Aviation Branch
    • Infantry Branch

Officer Rank Pins 

Officer rank pins are worn to quickly identify a service member’s military ranking. Both warrant officers and commissioned officers’ pins are worn on the tops of the shoulders, while enlisted service members identify their rank with a patch on both sleeves of the dress uniform. 

  • Warrant Officer Pins 
  • Commissioned Officer Pins 

Identification Badges

Identification badges are insignia worn by service members with special duties, which can be permanently awarded if they are performed successfully. They are worn centered on the right or left pocket. 

  • Presidential Service Badge (all military branches)
  • Master Gunner (Army)
  • Commander’s Insignia (Air Force and Space Force)
  • Command at Sea (Navy)
  • Military Police Corrections Badge (Marine Corps)
  • Commandant Staff Badge (Coast Guard)

Combat Badges 

Combat badges are pins awarded to soldiers who were present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy in active ground combat. They are worn on the left side above the service ribbons. 

  • Combat Infantryman Badge
  • Combat Action Badge
  • Combat Medical Badge

Skill Badges

Special skills badges show the special skills a service member has based on the school they completed. They are worn below the service ribbons at the top of the left pocket. If displayed on the pocket, they should be worn to the right of any marksmanship badges. 

  • Aviator 
  • Rigger 
  • Parachutist Badge (Basic and Naval) 

Marksmanship Badges

Marksmanship badges and medals are awarded to service members after successfully completing a weapons qualification course or are awarded for high achievement during an official marksmanship competition, called marksmanship competition badges. Marksmanship qualification badges are awarded by the Army and Marine Corps while Marksmanship medals are awarded by the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force. They are worn on the left pocket, underneath the service ribbons. 

  • Army
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy

Distinctive Unit Insignia 

The distinctive unit insignia is a pin that is worn by service members in the Army and represents the unit they are currently assigned to. Each unit has its own insignia design. It is worn on the right side above the name plate or above any unit citation award ribbons. 

  • United States Army Futures Command 
  • 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
  • 3rd Cavalry Regiment
  • 110th Aviation Brigade 

Service Ribbons

Service ribbons are a representation of the medals that have been awarded to the service member, making it easier for them to show off their accolades without having to weigh down their dress uniform with the weight of many medals.

  • Individual award ribbons are worn above the left pocket and are awards that have been earned by the service member. They are listed in order of precedence. 
    • Medal of Honor 
    • Defense Distinguished Service
    • Silver Star
    • Defense Superior Service
    • Legion of Merit
    • Bronze Star
    • Purple Heart
    • Meritorious Service
    • Prisoner of War
    • Medal for Humane Action
  • Unit citation award ribbons are also worn above the left pocket, although the Army exclusively wears them above the right pocket. They are awarded to service members who show extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. 
    • Presidential Unit Citation
    • Joint Meritorious Unit Award
    • Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
    • Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
    • Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation

Custom pins from WizardPins

Are you a veteran of the U.S. military? Show off your pride with a military pin that represents your status as a veteran and the heroic efforts you made while serving for your country! See below for more custom pin options.

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