Defense Meritorious Service Medal


This medal was established by Executive Order 12019 on Nov. 3, 1977, when President Carter signed the order establishing it. The Defense Meritorious Service Medal is awarded to military personnel serving with or assigned to a number of joint activities including The Secretary of Defense, Organizations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Headquarters of Joint Commands. Other joint activities and specified commands such as Military Assistance Advisory Groups and Joint Missions; and jointly manned staffs within Allied Command Europe, Allied Command Atlantic, the NATO Military Committee, and military agencies associated with functions of the military or other joint activities as may be designated by the Secretary are also included.



The medal (pictured above) is awarded for noncombat meritorious achievement or service that is incontestably exceptional and of magnitude that clearly places the individual above his peers while serving in one of the assignments for which the medal has been designated.



The medal was designed by Mildred Orloff and sculpted by Lewis J. King, Jr., both of the Institute of Heraldry. It is one and one-half inches in diameter overall, consisting of a circular wreath of laurel tied with a ribbon at the base. In the center is a pentagon shape; superimposed over the pentagon is an American eagle with wings upraised and overlapping the wreath, standing on the bottom edge of the pentagon. On the reverse the medal has the inscription, "Defense Meritorious Service" in three horizontal lines; and around the bottom are the words, "United States of America," with space between for engraving the recipient's name.



The ribbon has three light blue and two white narrow stripes in the center flanked by a wide stripe of white and wide stripe of purplish red edged by a narrow stripe of white.



Oak Leaf Cluster and Remote “R” Device



The "R" device was established to distinguish an award earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat operation or other military operation (i.e. outcome of an engagement or specific effects on a target). Other military operations include Title 10, United States Code, support of non-Title 10 operations, and operations authorized by an approved execute order.


The action must have been performed through any domain and in circumstances that did not expose the individual to personal hostile action, or place him or her at significant risk of personal exposure to hostile action:

  • While engaged in military operations against an enemy of the United States; or

  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict against an opposing foreign force; or

  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in military operations with an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party

Qualifying Career Fields

The "R" device may be awarded to Airmen who, during the period of the act, served in the remotely piloted aircraft; cyber; space; or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance career fields on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).


Basis for a Decoration

  • The "R" device is only authorized for a specific achievement (i.e. impact awards) and will not be authorized for sustained performance or service (i.e. end-of-tour, separation or retirement decorations)

  • Recognition for direct and immediate impact shall be based on the merit of the individual's actions, the basic criteria of the decoration, and the "R" device criteria

  • Performance of a normal duty or accumulation of minor acts will not justify the "R" device. The act must have been: performed in a manner significantly above that normally expected and sufficient to distinguish the individual above members performing similar acts

  • A decoration should only be recommended in cases where the event clearly merits special recognition of the action (i.e. achieving a strategic objective or saving of lives on the ground)