Meritorious Service Medal (United States)
The Meritorious Service Medal is a military decoration
Awards and decorations of the United States military
Awards and decorations of the United States Military are military decorations which recognize service and personal accomplishments while a member of the United States armed forces...

 presented to members of the United States Armed Forces
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

 who distinguished themselves by outstanding meritorious achievement or service to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 subsequent to January 16, 1969. Effective 11 September 2001, this award also may be bestowed for meritorious achievement in a designated combat theatre.
Normally, the acts or services rendered must be comparable to that required for the Legion of Merit
Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit is a military decoration of the United States armed forces that is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements...

 but in a duty of lesser, though considerable, responsibility. A higher decoration, known as the Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
The Defense Meritorious Service Medal is the third-highest award bestowed upon members of the United States military by the United States Department of Defense...

, is intended for similar services performed under joint service with the United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

. Today, most MSM recipients are field grade officers (pay grade
Pay grade
Pay grades are used by the uniformed services of the United States to determine wages and benefits based on the corresponding military rank of a member of the services...

s O-4 to O-6), senior warrant officers (W-3 to W-5), senior noncommissioned officers (E-7 to E-9), foreign military personnel in the ranks of O-6 and below, and individuals who have displayed a level of service that warrants an award of such magnitude. To receive this award the individual must exhibit exceptionally meritorious service at that level of responsibility.


At the Tri-Department Awards Conference (February 5, 1968), there was a discussion on the need for a third meritorious award to provide appropriate recognition for non-combat achievement or service comparable to the Bronze Star
Bronze Star Medal
The Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. As a medal it is awarded for merit, and with the "V" for valor device it is awarded for heroism. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the...

  for combat achievement or service. It was felt that the Legion of Merit
Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit is a military decoration of the United States armed forces that is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements...

's prestige was slipping because it was being used with increasing frequency to reward service below the Legion of Merit's intended standard, but higher than that required for the Commendation Medal
Commendation Medal
The Commendation Medal is a mid-level United States military decoration which is presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy force, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star, the Valor device may...


An ad hoc committee was formed by the Secretary of Defense
United States Secretary of Defense
The Secretary of Defense is the head and chief executive officer of the Department of Defense of the United States of America. This position corresponds to what is generally known as a Defense Minister in other countries...

 (M&RA) to select a name. On November 8, 1968, the committee unanimously approved the name "Meritorious Service Medal". President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 established the Meritorious Service Medal per , dated January 16, 1969. The Executive Order was amended by President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 per , dated July 2, 1981, to authorize award to members of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations.

The decoration was designed by Mr. Jay Morris of the Institute of Heraldry, and the design was approved by the committee on March 20, 1969. The ribbon design purposely follows the colors used for the Legion of Merit
Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit is a military decoration of the United States armed forces that is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements...

 to reflect the parallel between the two medals. The eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

, symbol of the United States, stands on laurel
Bay Laurel
The bay laurel , also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is the source of the bay leaf used in cooking...

 branches denoting achievement. The star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

 is used to represent the military service and the rays emanating therefrom denote the constant efforts of individuals to achieve through excellent and meritorious service.

The Meritorious Service Medal is a bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 medal, 1.5 inches in diameter overall, consisting of six rays issuant from the upper three points of a five-pointed star with beveled edges and containing two smaller stars defined by incised outlines; in front of the lower part of the star an eagle with wings upraised standing upon two upward curving branches of laurel tied with a ribbon between the feet of the eagle. The reverse has the encircled inscriptions "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and "MERITORIOUS SERVICE". The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/8 inch Crimson 67112; 1/4 inch White 67101; center 5/8 inch Crimson; 1/4 inch White; and 1/8 inch Crimson.

Subsequent awards in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force are denoted by the attachment of bronze oak leaf clusters to the ribbon and medal; susbequent awards in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are denoted by the attachment of gold stars to the ribbon and medal.

Notable Recipients

  • Dennis C. Blair
  • Jeremy Boorda
  • Patrick Henry Brady
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  • Russell Adam Burnham
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  • Francis X. Castellano
  • Wesley Clark
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  • Vincent Desportes
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  • Terry Gabreski
    Terry Gabreski
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  • Chuck DeVore
    Chuck DeVore
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  • Iceal Hambleton
    Iceal Hambleton
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  • Robert L. Howard
    Robert L. Howard
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  • Zuhdi Jasser
    Zuhdi Jasser
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  • John McCain
    John McCain
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  • Norman Marous
    Norman Marous
    Norman Marous at the time of his retirement, was the oldest, longest serving noncommissioned officer in the United States Air Force, with 41 and 1/2 years of service...

  • Wendy M. Masiello
    Wendy M. Masiello
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  • Richard J. Meadows
    Richard J. Meadows
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  • Nicholas Ralph "Nick" Parker
  • John Poindexter
    John Poindexter
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  • L. Scott Rice
    L. Scott Rice
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  • John Ripley
    John Ripley
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  • Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.
    Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.
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  • Patrick M. Stillman
    Patrick M. Stillman
    Patrick M. Stillman was a Rear Admiral of the United States Coast Guard.Stillman graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1972 where he received a Bachelor of Science degree. Stillman was assistant commandant for governmental and public affairs and has held several sea commands...

  • Edward D. Thalmann
    Edward D. Thalmann
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  • James Voss
  • Patrick M. Walsh
    Patrick M. Walsh
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  • Doug Wheelock
  • Frances C. Wilson
    Frances C. Wilson
    Frances C. Wilson is a retired lieutenant general of the United States Marine Corps, and is the immediate past president of the National Defense University.-Personal life and education:...

  • Janet C. Wolfenbarger
    Janet C. Wolfenbarger
    Lieutenant General Janet Carol Wolfenbarger is vice commander of the United States Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.Wolfenbarger was confirmed by the United States Senate and immediately promoted on 2009 December 3....

  • Thomas Andrews Drake
    Thomas Andrews Drake
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External links

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