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How to Justify an Award in the Army

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Can an award be downgraded or denied based on rank? This article shouldn't even exist, but here we are and if you are reading this, then there is a problem at your unit that violates Equal Opportunity guidelines and provides discrimination based on rank to receive awards that they are justified to receive.

That being said, there is a lot of grey area in the regulation about what justifies these awards and depending on how your unit words it, they are completely protected by the regulation. If a unit specifically says that a rank is unable to receive a specific award, unless a general officer, then it is discrimination. But if your unit says that the person must display impact at the BN, BDE, DIV, CORPS level, then they are exercising their interpretation of meritorious achievements or service within the writeup for the award.

I have been in multiple units that equated achievements that affected certain organizational levels to be appropriate for certain awards. Where I have still seen some discrimination is when someone of a specific junior rank does do something that affects a higher echelon and still be downgraded even though the unit had clearly established their interpretation and requirements to justify certain awards. I commonly see the below justifications for the accompanying award:

AAM- Company/BN


MSM- DIV and higher

In order to better understand how commands can so easily downgrade awards, look at the requirements for eligibility and who can recommend awards straight from the regulation below.

"3–5. Who may recommend

a. The Army does not allow self-recognition (including spouses or other Family members), therefore, a Soldier may not recommend himself or herself for award of a decoration.

b. The recommending official must have first-hand personal knowledge of the event, or have been senior in grade at the time of the action(s) or service, to the individual being recommended for an award. Additionally, the recommending official must have knowledge of all the action(s) or service cited. That is, the recommending official must have either observed the actions or been provided information by an individual who observed the actions.

c. Recommending officials who did not personally witness the action must have been associated, by virtue of their position in the command, with the incident and/or the individual being recommended for the award. If the recommending official is not the commanding officer, the commander, if available, must endorse the recommendation. If it is no longer possible to route the recommendation through the commander (for example, the commander is deceased), a signed statement to the effect must be included. In this case, another officer who has knowledge of the action(s), and who was senior in the chain of command of the individual being recommended during the period for which recognition is desired, may endorse the recommendation.

d. Recommendations for the award of Army decorations to members of another Service branch will be submitted by Army personnel only."

"1–14. Time limitation

Except for award recommendations submitted in accordance with the provisions of Section 1130, Title 10, United States Code (10 USC 1130), which are outlined below and in paragraph 1–15 and appendix F, each recommendation for an award of a military decoration must be entered administratively into military channels within 2 years of the act, achievement, or service to be honored, with exception of the MOH, DSC, and Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) (see para 1–14e). An award recommendation will be considered to have been submitted into military channels when it has been signed by the initiating officer and endorsed by a higher official in the chain of command."

"3–17. Meritorious Service Medal

a. The MSM was established by EO 11448, 16 January 1969 as amended by EO 12312, 2 July 1981, as amended by EO 13286, 28 March 2003. It is awarded to any Servicemember of the Armed Forces of the United States or to any member of the armed forces of a friendly foreign nation who has distinguished himself or herself by outstanding meritorious achievement or service."

"3–19. Army Commendation Medal

a. The ARCOM was established by War Department Circular 377, 18 December 1945 (amended in AGO 1960–10, 31 March 1960). b. The ARCOM is awarded to any Servicemember of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving in any capacity with the Army after 6 December 1941, distinguishes himself or herself by heroism, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service."

"3–20. Army Achievement Medal

a. The AAM was established by the SECARMY, 10 April 1981, as announced in AGO 1990–15.

b. The AAM is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States, or to any member of the armed forces of a friendly foreign nation, who distinguished himself or herself by meritorious service or achievement of a lesser degree than required for award of the ARCOM."

In order to justify an award for submission, you will need to know eligibility requirements from the regulation and how your command team interprets the blue print above. In order for them to be objective and not discriminatory, they should have solid guidelines as to what they considers meritorious service and achievements based on award for the personnel assigned to your unit. If they don't, it will make it much harder for them to adequately explain away this discriminatory behavior. Not impossible, just difficult.

Be educated in the regulation before you approach your command team, EO, or IG about an issue. Be the change you want to see, spearhead the movement trailblazer.

New DA Form 638 as of 1 Apr 2021 here.

Read more:


Department of the Army. (2019). Military awards. Army Regulation 600–8-22, 1–227.

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